When I read this article at nytimes.com today, entitled "Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, Officials Say," I immediately considered the ramifications for the fashion and publishing industries. Essentially, the article states that:
With job openings scarce for young people, the number of unpaid internships has climbed in recent years, leading federal and state regulators to worry that more employers are illegally using such internships for free labor...To be sure, many internships involve some unskilled work, but when the jobs are mostly drudgery, regulators say, it is clearly illegal not to pay interns.My good friend Danielle over at Final Fashion has already blogged about breaking into the fashion industry and the issue of internships, and I stated my opinions on the issue when she interviewed me for that post.
What I do think is interesting about this news article is the government's attempt to really crack down on the use of interns as "free labor," which I think is more common in creative industries with lower knowledge-based barriers to entry such as fashion and film. (I always found it outrageous when my business, math and engineering friends made more money on their internships than I could expect to make as an entry-level worker in the creative industries, but that's another story for another day!)
While I have learned so much from the designer studio and fashion magazine internships that I have been able to do, I can understand how the industry's reliance on unpaid interns could be problematic, especially when I look at certain independent magazines' editorial mastheads and notice that there are more interns than employees listed.
One Ivy League student said she spent an unpaid three-month internship at a magazine packaging and shipping 20 or 40 apparel samples a day back to fashion houses that had provided them for photo shoots.The question is, of course, whether this time spent shipping samples was educational or an example of a company taking advantage of "free labor," and the issue is more nuanced than it may first appear. For example, how educational and beneficial an internship is to an individual depends on their circumstances going into it, the corporate stance on interns (disposable or a resource to be nurtured and eventually hired), and the individual intern's supervisor's commitment to mentoring and teaching on the job. Perhaps this Ivy League student was learning about the editorial process and allowed to assist on photo shoots whenever she wasn't doing returns! (And for the record, 20 or 40 samples per day is a fairly slow pace, and she was lucky not to be physically schlepping samples around the city!)
In any case, it will be interesting to see how regulators will process with this issue. Already, in the past five years I've noticed that most internships now require college credit (to provide and confirm that educational slant), which is great in theory...but in practice means that some students feel as if they are actually "paying" (for the school credit or internship course) to intern for free, and recent graduates who didn't attend school in an urban area and don't have a dozen internships on their resume are unable to gain much needed experience to be more competitive.
What do you think about unpaid internships in general (not just in fashion)?
(Note: Fashion magazine closet image via.)