What does my daughter, who graduates from college in 2012, have in common with my grandfather who arrived in this country exactly a century earlier? Looks like they’re both going to wind up working a few months for no pay at the start of their careers. Allow me to explain.
When my grandfather, a tailor, arrived here from Europe he set out to find work in a sweatshop. You may question his career choice, but this was about all he could hope for upon his arrival in America. He was informed that in order to work in the shop he had to “buy” his machine. Not that he was going to get to keep it, but he was buying his seat at the machine. And the cost of this seat equaled exactly the amount they would pay him for his first three months in the shop. Questionable business practice? Probably. Illegal? Possibly. Immoral? No doubt about it. But he did it because he had no choice.
Fast forward a century and here comes my daughter with her newly minted BA from a well regarded university into an economy with an unemployment rate of over 13% for 20 to 24 year olds. Even though the percentage of students who have jobs lined up following graduation is expected to be higher this year than any of the past five, finding a job today, even with a college degree, will be daunting. According to an article that appeared in the NY Times, the competition for the most desirable positions may be so intense that the organizations feel they can simply dangle internships and still get some of the best talent. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/business/unpaid-internships-dont-always-deliver.html?pagewanted=1)
Internships used to be for undergrads. With profit margins so thin some organizations, even those that used to offer jobs to graduates, are offering three or six month internships as a means of reducing costs. And the promise of a position at the end of the internship, though not guaranteed, is too good to pass up.
So my daughter fills out applications, e-mails, tweets, and makes phone calls to prospective employers and those offering internships. Maybe if I tell her that she is carrying on a family tradition she’ll feel better about her situation. But I think this is a dangerous trend for businesses, to devalue the contributions of their potential future leaders and most importantly, their future customers.