This time last year, their paper-selling (sorry, “digital subscription” selling) headline was “The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not”. And, right when the furor dies down – and right before the summer internship season begins – they throw in this year’s sh*t-stirring entry: “Unpaid Interns, Complicit Colleges”.
Really? We’re going there? Calling out college career centers for doing what they feel they must to help desperate soon-to-be graduates find real work?
Look, YouTern has pointed out where career centers could help their students more effectively, and often with more passion – all while understanding that budget cutbacks have decimated their ranks to ridiculous levels. We agree that deliberately steering students toward “slave labor” internships is unacceptable. And, yes, there are many stories of funded and well-established companies exploiting their interns for no other reason than they’ve gotten away with it for years. That goes for our federal and state governments – this country’s largest providers of unpaid internships.
But attack the career centers for finding a student an internship that just may make the difference between work within their chosen field – and working at Starbuck’s or McDonald’s for two more years – strictly because it is unpaid? Seems very black and white, during a very gray economy.
Last year, I assumed the reporter was well-intended – yet slightly out of touch with the in-the-trenches reality. This time, author Ross Perlin was perhaps firing the opening salvo in support of his forthcoming book, “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in The Brave New Economy.” Good marketing – even entrepreneurial; an effort I will certainly encourage as I order my copy from Amazon. And, we’ll enthusiastically collaborate with any effort to end exploitation of interns as business policy.
My issue here… is with the New York Times itself.
Why? Because the Mighty Times is known themselves for offering unpaid internships as well as paid opportunities. Yet – blatantly and with all due hypocrisy – they continue to attack other businesses (including presumably not-yet-funded start-ups and emerging small businesses) for failing to pay $7.25 an hour for interns. Do their “unpaid” internships make them the devil? Perhaps not. But it sure paints them as a pretender as they persistently pound their fists on the paid vs. unpaid table.
Annual journalistic entries from the Times (each perfectly timed for the summer internship season for maximum readership) or not, our starving students will continue to do what they feel they must to succeed in the worst economy in 80 years. They simply have no choice.
And, unlike the Times, they have nothing to “sell” in this ongoing debate – except themselves to their future employers.
About the Author: A passionate supporter of Gen Y talent, YouTern CEO Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in Forbes, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, and Under30CEO.com regarding internships, emerging talent and the current job market – and was recently honored to be named to GenJuice’s “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors” list.