Lately I’ve been obsessed with the Simon and Schuster Internship Lawsuit. The whole thing really bums me out.
Let me start by saying that I get the reason for these suits. It’s important that we don’t allow businesses and companies to use the term “intern” as a guise for free labor. The problem is what defines a learning experience and what did the interns get out of the job in the long run. I’m not entirely sure that’s easy to answer, just like I don’t think you can say that every college grad finished with a learning experience. Everyone might have finished with a diploma, but while some feel like they are prepared for the business world, others might feel they are really only prepared to tap the perfect keg.
I came out of a long line of internships and credit each with teaching me different things and helping me on my road to figuring out what it was I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. I don’t remember ever being paid for an internship and I do know that the work I was doing was, in retrospect, free labor. But labor that added immensely to my resume and to giving me contacts that I still have to this day. Labor that also helped me develop a sense of what working in a professional environment required, how to make and maintain important connections and, yes, how to file.
In a perfect world every company hiring interns would pay them, but in a perfect world every company hiring interns would have the money to pay them. The truth is that if many smaller companies (and I’m not necessarily addressing those impacted by the suits) had the money to hire interns they would probably hire more staff instead, leaving students looking to amp up their resume for a summer out in the cold.
BookEnds has hired more than one of our former interns, we’ve helped others find jobs and proudly watched them build their own careers. We’ve stayed in touch with many. And, sadly, now we need to seriously reconsider our internship program. While we do think of it as a learning experience, and try to make it one, what we’ve learned the most is that some of our interns will do everything in their power to learn and others won’t. It’s as simple as that.