Monday, May 10, 2010

Graduation weekend

This was graduation weekend in my neck of the woods. And these graduates, like last year's are emerging into a very difficult employment situation. In reading an article in our local paper about the difficulties this year's grads are facing in finding a job, I was struck by the examples of those students who already had landed jobs. The common factor seemed to be that those students had had internships during their college time. I don't know if those internships were paid or not, but it is clearly the path to take to get job experience and make connections for future employment. And that is the path that the Obama administration wants to narrow by stopping corporations from employing students as unpaid interns.
Unpaid internships are considered legal only if they are truly structured educational experiences for the benefit of the intern rather than the company and offer no promise of a job after the internship ends.

Labor lawyers argue that businesses need to review what they ask interns to do.

"If they're performing administrative tasks, clerical tasks, answering phones, getting copies – things that would otherwise displace a regular employee, then the Department of Labor may find that to be more looking like an employee than an intern," said Kara Maciel, a labor attorney at Epstein, Becker and Green, adding that those internships should be paid.

But business lobby groups note the economy is so tight, companies may have to cut back on or eliminate intern hiring if they have to be paid – especially small businesses – causing students to miss valuable opportunities that bolster their resumes.

"They will likely not be able to pay for it," said Barbara Lang, vice president and chief executive of the DC Chamber of Commerce. "Unless government is going to provide some subsidy along with these requirements, they won't be able to provide these experiences anymore."

Supporters say the law should be enforced and companies should not get free labor. They also want to level the playing field between interns who can afford to work for free and those who can't.
That all sounds very good, but the reality is that these sorts of experiences are a gateway for students to get the experiences that will help them find a job in these tough times. Limiting those opportunities would be a big mistake.