Fresh Out of College? Choose Temp Work – not Internship | DCR Workforce Blog

Fresh Out of College? Choose Temp Work – not Internship

college-graduatesThis weekend, I watched in utter fascination as Disney’s Princess Elsa called up snow storms and blizzards with a flick of her dainty hands. I guess many of us would much rather identify with poor innocent Olaf, the Snowman who wishes for a summer breeze to blow away the winter storm and hopes to get a gorgeous tan from the Sun! Ah, for summer!

Come summer, we often see recent graduates rushing to land internships, even if they learn (or earn) nothing from them. Fresh out of school, with no tried and tested skills, driven by an overwhelming wish to be a part of a particular industry but unable to secure a permanent position,   many are drawn to unpaid internships. Businesses offering unpaid internships entice candidates with the opportunity to build credentials, and possibly convert the internship into actual employment.  It is estimated that of the one million internships offered by businesses in a given year, about half go uncompensated.

2014 may see some change, as Elite Models faces a $450,000 payout to the unpaid interns while Fox Searchlight Pictures is said to have defied state and federal laws by taking in unpaid interns but using them as employees. So, how do you plan to get that break – in to the industry of your choice, right out of college?

Unpaid Internships:

When considering an unpaid internship, you must answer two questions:  “is the internship illegal?” and “Will I benefit from the unpaid internship?”

While there is no “law” defining the legality of unpaid internships, a fact sheet issued in 2010 by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division lists six criteria to determine if an internship is legal or not.  This fact sheet in cited in nearly every litigation involving “for profit” companies. Please note that this does NOT apply to unpaid volunteers working for non-profit organizations:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment,
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern,
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff,
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded,
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship, and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

In summary, an unpaid internship must be an extension of the student’s educational experience, not just free labor.

In addressing the second question, various studies have demonstrated that job opportunities are improved by paid internships which offer the relevant training rather than unpaid ones. A study of more than 10,000 2013 graduates receiving bachelor’s degrees was conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).  Results indicated that the Hiring rates for those who had completed an unpaid internship (37%) were nearly as low as for those who did not participate in an internship program (35%), while 63% of those who completed a paid internship secured employment.  In addition, those students who took on unpaid internships and later found employment were at the bottom of the pay scale, averaging $35,721, while students with paid internships earned an average starting salary of $51,930.

  • The reasons are not hard to find:  The business has no responsibility to train the worker or impart the necessary skills and experiences sought when accepting the internship.   As a result, the position adds no new credentials to the resume.
  • Many companies offering unpaid internships are in industries that are experiencing slow/no growth and there are a surplus of candidates for the available jobs.

While the government has not taken action to address the abuses of unpaid internships, media attention has caused many companies today to shy away from offering unpaid internships given their dubious reputation.

Proper Internships:

A proper internship addresses the six points of the DOL/BLS fact sheet.  It offers a physical place to work, a mentor or supervisor who watches over the work and corrects/trains/helps you improve. Work assignments and responsibilities draws upon the skills imparted by your college education, and lasts for a fixed term. Here, you may be paid for your work in some college credits as your college is also involved in finding you this experiential learning opportunity.

Temporary Work:

In today’s uncertain job market, young graduates are facing great odds. If unable to find a paid internship, do not settle for an unpaid internship. Think temporary work. Many businesses are turning to temporary workers to stay flexible in their workforce needs as they manage seasonal fluctuations, cover vacation-induced gaps and meet project imperatives.

  • The company itself will not train you, but the staffing agency which intermediates between their need for a worker and your need for work will be shouldering that responsibility. In addition, the worker has the opportunity to “apprentice” under the direction of experienced colleagues.
  • Wages are market-based.  Clients expect to derive value from each worker, and will create work environments to maximize the worker’s contribution.
  • A temporary job could lead to a long term relationship where you periodically get called back in for another assignment, or get converted to a permanent role. In addition, you begin to build a professional network that will aid in career advancement.
  • You will be building skills and experience, which improve your desirability in the job market.

As John Dewey famously said ‘To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness’.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.