Is a culture of permanent interns hurting us?

sad working inter
Photo credit: Eugenio Marongiu, Shutterstock

As valuable as internships can be for career development and the job hunt, is there a point where it is just too much? The Washingtonian, a magazine focused on the DC area, looked at The Age of the Permanent Intern, discussing how shifting work dynamics have led many college-educated young adults into taking low-paying or unpaid internships not just once, but multiple times in a row.

The article highlights young adults like 25-year-old Kate, who graduated from an Ivy League school and has been an intern, for three different companies and organizations, for more than a year and a half.

Desperate as she is, the Department of Labor doesn’t consider her to be unemployed, because she has two jobs. Instead, Kate, who often works more than 60 hours a week, is in a class of workers who don’t show up in government reports. She’s one of the “permaterns”—those perpetual interns, mostly in their twenties—who have been battered by the winds of the recession and are holding out hope that the conventional career wisdom that an internship leads to a job isn’t folklore from a bygone era—like the 1990s.

This is where the permatern phenomenon starts to point toward wider trends in the economy—namely the cutthroat competition for knowledge-economy jobs, the lack of investment in this generation, and the skills gap between what a generation weaned on a liberal-arts education is trained for and what the in-demand skills and professions are right now (i.e., not another poli-sci or English major). The result? For many in Washington, the American dream starts with a highbrow internship that pays $4.35 an hour—then another, and maybe another.

The article is long, but worth a read, especially if you have spent time (or are spending time) interning and looking for full-time work.

What do you think? Is doing multiple stints as an intern “lucky,” as one young woman described it, considering that many others can’t find jobs at all? Or should we think about the long-term impact of people taking on internships?

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Comments

    • Doris
    • April 16, 2013

    I did not know that there was such a thing. It sounds preposterous for someone to ask you to dedicate all of their time and effort to your cause with no pay indefinitely. I would never agree to such a thing.

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