In 2009, Eric Glatt had what sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime. After working on a few low budget documentary films, he applied for a chance to become an unpaid intern in a big budget film for Fox that he thought could really be something special. The name of that film? The Black Swan. Related: 6 Reasons Internships Are A Must In College When he finally started working, he came to notice something interesting - he was doing the exact same work he was doing on paid gigs! Except he had "intern" in his job title, and he wasn't getting paid. What followed was a groundbreaking lawsuit that led to the district judge ruling in favor of Eric getting at least minimum wage, and opened the door to a bunch of successful illegal internship lawsuits in a variety of industries. From New York Times articles to political cartoons, everybody seems to be exposing these illegal internships as the exploitative, inequality promoting, pro-business-gone-wild travesties they are. But is that the whole story?
A Career Coach's View On Illegal InternshipsAs a career coach for liberal arts graduates and career changers, I've had a different experience. Time and again, illegal internships have allowed my students of all income levels and ages to get their foot in the door, and convince companies to give opportunities that they would never even consider in a paid internship.
6 Reasons Why I Support Illegal InternshipsThe past decade has seen a huge change in the career landscape, and illegal internships fill in a gap that no other form of work or training can.
1. They Give Young People And Career Changers A Foot In The DoorThere used to be a variety of ways to get your foot in the door.
- A college diploma, which used to set you head and shoulders above the competition, is now simply expected.
- Apprenticeships, which have become very scarce in recent years.
- On-the-job training, which has fallen out of favor for reasons I'll explain below.
2. They Allow Companies To Offset The Rising Cost Of TrainingOne of the well-documented trends in the past two decades is the decline of the "company man." In fact, workers of all ages have been staying at jobs for increasingly shorter periods of time. A consequence of this is the effect it has on training costs. Workers who do need the training are staying at the company for shorter periods of time, which decreases the return on investment for any training they receive. This effect led to an increased cost in training, and companies have found a creative way to pay for it: Trade free work experience for free on-the-job training. This is the essence of an illegal internship.
3. The Requirements For Legal Internships Are RidiculousThe US Department of Labor gives the following six requirements for legal unpaid internships:
The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:These requirements were made with one concept in mind - to prevent companies from exploiting workers for free labor. However, what got lost in translation was the reason that the internship existed in the first place - to provide you with work experience and future job opportunities It's self-defeating to have a law (#4 above) that specifically denies you the right to create advantageous results for the company you work for - this is the very thing that allows you to prove you're qualified for a future paying job.
- The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.