Friday, August 21, 2015

Pulling up the ladder does not help the young down below :(

Funding ran out when I was in graduate school.  I then did what many graduate students did--I looked for an internship.  It was an internship that paid a little bit more than the minimum wage back then.  I was not the only intern at that agency; there were, as I recall now, at least ten to twelve others, one of whom was the Jewish fellow whom I mentioned in this post from a few weeks ago.

Later, when I started working full-time, even at the much smaller outfit that it was, we routinely had one or two interns throughout the year.  They were paid, of course.  One of those interns, Robert, asked me whether I would like to guest-lecture in one of the classes that was taking at the local university.  That then led to part-time teaching and the rest unfolded on its own--I became a university faculty member. 

The department where I taught had a bulletin board where we routinely posted announcements about internships--rare was the unpaid internship.  One of those students, Chris, whom I helped land an internship, emailed me a few months after I had quit that university and moved to Oregon:
I just started an internship at Kern Cog in the GIS department, thank you for emailing the job opportunities you came across. I was wondering if you come across any good job openings if you could email them to me since I will be graduating in June. Hope things in Oregon are going good. Thank you.
Despite the recessionary times when I moved in 2002, in Oregon too we routinely received information about internships.  In one of those classes, I casually announced to students about an internship.  I told them about the hourly wage.  Nobody seemed interested.  A day later, a female student, Lisa, asked me for details.  She applied.  She started working there.  The internship helped her understand what it would mean to have a career in that field.  She then went on to graduate school in that professional program and returned to a full-time job in that very place where she had worked as an intern. 

Society apparently never likes it when things go well.  Because of worries over abuse of interns--and many of those concerns were for real--the law came down with a heavy hand on working conditions for interns.  Meanwhile, funding for public agencies rapidly diminished thanks to nutcases who wanted to drown the government in a bathtub.  And the private sector honchos couldn't care for paid interns even as their compensation kept increasing by dizzying amounts.  Thus, the richest country that the planet has ever known no longer has the kind of paid-internship opportunities that once existed even for "aliens" like me.

I am not exaggerating when I write that for the past few years students and I have had enormous difficulty finding paid internships.  Slamming the door shut on paid internships in the public and private sectors, even as corporate executives fatten themselves up, is one of the many ways in which we are screwing our own collective futures.


Anne in Salem said...

I thought the crackdown in the last couple of years was about unpaid interns, not paid interns. I know no one who has or had an internship so am ignorant on the subject. What is the difference between a paid internship and a job? Perhaps industry-specific experience is important in some fields, but most people I know who hire new employees are more concerned with abilities (can he think, can he process, can he make a decision, can he learn) than with specific skills that can be learned on the job.

Ramesh said...

Yup - its unfortunate if intern opportunities are diminishing. Is it simply because of the funding dying up in universities - an issue you have extensively blogged about.

Sriram Khé said...

Ramesh, this doesn't have anything with the funding for universities. I was expressing my concerns that the private industry doesn't invest in the youth as it used to before. And thanks to the tax-cutting-nutcases, the funding for public agencies to offer internships has evaporated.
Internships were also called "training" programs, Anne. But, as I wrote in one op-ed a while ago, companies have stopped making investments that way and it is now up to the young person to spend the money and train themselves so that the profit bottom-line of companies can look even better and the execs can be rewarded that much more :(
Thus, in the old days, if you recall some of the stories, a literature person might get hired by a computer company not because of the computer skills that the person had--companies trained many of the entry-level youth. Now, we are increasingly being myopic in the name of global competition :(

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