The conundrum of internship

What to think about the ubiquitous issue of internship? On the one hand taking on an intern from college (extraordinarily popular in America) gives the young person an introduction to commerce or politics and a transition to the real world. It allows the organisation to assess the person’s usefulness and adaptability without immediate commitment or legal entanglement and the disagreeable possibility of having to fire a young, maybe vulnerable employee. For the internee it is a foot in the door.

On the other hand, some interns are paid something, but mainly a nominal amount; others are paid nothing, and the message is “you are lucky to be here at all”. The implication of this is that you have to come from a well heeled family prepared to subsidise you, and this is both unfair to the people without private financial help, very divisive, and no doubt annoying to parents who thought the end of college was the end of endless educational expenses.

In my day I never heard of internship at all. You were either offered a paid job or told your face didn’t fit. The starting pay was, of course, modest, but if you messed up the company had, by law, to warn you, point out your failings and make arrangements to train you better. This is/was the civilised way of conducting employee relations. I have a feeling that Epicurus would have a single word to describe internship: exploitation, a way of getting enthusiastic free labour for nothing. Of course, if there is an understanding that a permanent job is waiting for you, and this is merely a trial period, then I suppose internship is better than no work at all. But, were I still a company boss I would have nothing to do with it: either hire the young person after interview, or don’t. It is not Epicurean to keep a person trying like mad, only to wave goodbye to them, come what may, having benefitted from their work.

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