So I attended the yearly job fair UIC with very low expectations. No, I’m not exactly an optimist when it comes to these sorts of things, but no way was was I prepared to be verbally slapped in the face by what passes for an ‘unpaid internship’ these days.
Sure, at the UIC job fair there were the big banks and law firms looking for accountants and industrial companies looking for engineer majors for potential employees or at least a paid internship, but everything else was all work, no pay.
One in particular that stood out to me was a marketing/advertising/PR internship at a suburban amusement park. The person I spoke with described a very demanding 40-hour work week, working closely with herself while working the responsibilities of a manager. UNPAID! Are unpaid internships like that even legal in this state? Turns out, the internship in question is probably not legal in any state.
There are laws in place when it comes to hiring unpaid interns. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov) and under the Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act, there are very strict guidelines that employers must adhere to. But in these tough times, I fear that the line is being blurred.
One criteria, for example, is that “the employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the student; and on occasion, the operations may actually be impeded by the training.” The internship in question would be in clear violation of this law.
The person I spoke with is the marketing director in charge of advertising, marketing, PR, etc for this business. “A one person marketing team,” she called it. And conveniently, there are internships offered for all the aforementioned responsibilities. It seems to me like all those tasks and responsibilities that businesses normally disperse among several people with several paychecks, is being collected by this woman, who offsets the workload with a team of naive interns.
Taken from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s article The Truth Behind Unpaid Internships:
“The basic principle behind a legal unpaid internship is simple – unpaid interns cannot do any work that contributes to a company’s operations…So, legally, what can an unpaid intern do? Unpaid interns can shadow other employees and perform duties that don’t have a business need.
For example: a bakery may allow an apprentice to decorate a tray of cookies that will not be sold to customers.”
The benefits for employers (without exploiting labor), comes with the ability to “audition potential employees without having to invest in labor or benefits.” But if an employer wants to lighten the workload with some affordable help, paid internships are a good outlet, “if you need assistance with marketing or setting up a website but can’t afford a professional, students looking to boost their resume are often a good bet… but it can’t be unpaid.”
To have an unpaid intern work 40 hours a week in a busy, commercial atmosphere with “responsibilities of a manager,” I would find it hard not to sell any of their cookies, if you see what I’m saying.
Really, I would have been an decent candidate for a paid position. I’m just credits away from a college degree in a relevant field, have a pretty stacked resume, and I have experience, and Photoshop skills to help fix that nasty eyesore of a foldout she was passing off as promotional material. But I’m not willing to do that for free.
Had this fair been at a high school or a community college, I wouldn’t be having such a beef over this. But there’s something about showing up at job fair at UIC, a large, well-known university that churns out some of Chicago’s best and brightest, and offering a demanding 40-hour work week as an unpaid internship… I dunno, to me it just seems like a slap in the face. Minimum wage is $8.50, you really won’t pity out a couple hundred bucks a week for this labor? I know it’s a rough economy out there, but exploiting the labor of college students should not be as common as it is.
Graduates, be knowledgeable about your skills and value in the workplace, and parents, watch out for these people that are preying on your kids.