Lara posted this yesterday on her personal blog and since it's so relevant to I&S we're cross posting over here. Interested in your thoughts!
I'm taking a little break from my usual programming to talk about something a little controversial at the moment - internships. Sparking into a bit of a hot topic in the media and twittersphere in the last few days, Fair Work Australia are cracking down on internships that might be deemed illegal if they're not conducted as part of an 'authorised educational training course'.
Of course the topic is pretty close to my heart because at Ink & Spindle we engage interns on a fairly regular basis. Some of our interns are requesting a position as a compulsory part of their degree, others are coming to us entirely of their own volition. They might be a full-time parent looking to return to work, or a student who has studied something entirely different and now are curious about changing career paths... to us it doesn't matter what their background is so long as they're keen.
A very blurry Robyn, printing a single colour repeat design of dutch houses!
I think that yes there are instances in certain industries where internships are exploitative - big companies offering long term positions when they could afford to pay someone but choose to substitute a paid position with a free intern. These situations are unethical and set a bad precedent in their industry. But there are other situations such as ours where we simply can't afford to pay an extra person. We aren't dependent on interns - our business functions fine without them - but if there are individuals keen for the experience we'll gladly take them on board. We might not have a lot of spare cash but we do have a wealth of knowledge to impart. There are a lot of menial tasks to be done around the studio but we try hard to ensure that the positions are mutually beneficial.
I can't help but feel that the issue of unpaid internships is largely a 'first world problem' and seems to occur largely in 'desirable' industries, e.g. textiles, music, fashion, design. There seems to be an abundance of willing workers and not enough jobs for all of them. To me that's not just an issue of exploitation but equally an issue with our education system. Here we are providing an gamut of exciting higher educational opportunities, giving people the illusion that they can work in whatever field they desire, but without any accountability from our educators with regards to finding work in the chosen field after study.
Intern work - stencils on the lightbox
Textiles is a classic example. Perhaps it's my ignorance but sadly I just don't see where all the jobs are for the students who are studying textile design. Yet our universities keep producing new graduates; students who are passionate about design and are lead to believe there'll be work at the other end. And when there's not, it's no surprise they're willing to do unpaid work to give themselves an edge.
In my opinion the best way to find work in our field is to make your own job. That's what we did. So when our interns come through we focus less on 'textile design' and more on 'small business' - how our business runs, how we make it work, the ups and downs and challenges. These are valuable insights for anyone, not just a student of textile design. Interestingly most of the successful creative individuals I've met are those who first studied something else entirely different. I think that's awesome.