Are Internships “Still” the New Entry-Level Job?

A CNN article from the end of last year asked: “Are internships the new entry-level job?”

After witnessing the lack of jobs for young professionals, and the internship opportunities available to emerging talent this fall, the question  is still relevant some 10 months later.

In the CNN article, author Natalie Avon stated: “Full-time employment has dropped 9 percentage points among 18-to-29-year-olds since 2006, leaving only 41 percent of millennials with full-time jobs…”. More recently, the Census Bureau announced that  44.7 percent of people between 16 and 29 were unemployed in 2010.

The consensus is that instead of finding “real” jobs, millennials are still willing to take multiple internships just to stay active, to gain experience in order make themselves more competitive in the job market – all until the economy improves and “career” opportunities become available.

We also have service bureaus and career “experts” (most we’ve never heard of) touting interns as free labor. “Learn how to build your company on the back of interns – at no cost to you!” they scream as though they’re hawking used cars. And unfortunately, even some students are buying into this portrayal of internships.

As Heather Huhman, Founder and President of Come Recommended, stated eloquently to students in her blog titled “Stop Referring to Internships as Free Labor!”…

Internships are meant to be educational in nature and supplement what you’re learning in college classrooms. In class, you’re learning all about theory. Internships help you put those theories into practice… (you) have somehow translated this…into ‘free labor.’”

What happened to internships, in their purest form, representing the opportunity for experiential education? And when did we let the economy dictate whether or not competitive wages for interns were expected?

Employers: when selecting the perfect intern, choose the candidate who values the position as a mentor-based opportunity; a spring-board for their careers – and compensate accordingly.

Candidates: understand there is a huge difference between a quality unpaid internship and a company taking advantage of you as “free labor”. Perform due diligence; if it appears that company is in the “free labor” camp – walk away, quickly.

Colleagues, Employers and Candidates: please keep in mind that especially when we’re setting precedent for tomorrow’s business leaders – integrity and ethics still matter.


About the Author: A passionate supporter of Gen Y talent, CEO and Founder of YouTern Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO regarding internships, higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce and career development. Recently, Mark was honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors”. You can contact Mark via email or on Twitter: @YouTernMark.

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