Sunday, March 9, 2014

Anonymous asked: What's your position about internships? Are they rather an experience inherent to design practice or a way for employers to get cheap labour? Would you consider having interns one day?

I don’t have a holistic view on this complicated subject. What I can offer are some fragmented thoughts —some of these points may be gross oversimplifications or contradictory because again, as I have said, I have yet to come up with an all encompassing or nuanced opinion.

— You cannot compare an internship in most cases to a traditional Mentor-Apprentice model where an apprentice trains and develops skill under the watchful eyes of a Master, as similar as they seem.

— The traditional Mentor-Apprentice model has its merits and has repeatedly proven itself in the history of Craft. This model is not dependent on capitalism.

— The internship model differs from the Mentor-Apprentice in a few ways, most importantly its existence is a direct consequence of capitalism. 

— In the general sense, an internship exists to fill in the gaps left uncovered from the modern art education. 90% of the gaps are products of capitalism—the do’s and don’ts of client relations, optimized workflows, adjusting an office environment, etc.

— Most, if not, all internships do not live up to the requirements or the spirit of a Mentor-Apprentice model which require extreme dedication from both parties and an intimacy level rarely achieved in a studio or agency environment.

—It is because of this that many internships end up become cheap labor.

— The education in internships is largely split into two main categories: indirect learning, and commanded learning.

— An example of Indirect Learning: The intern learns about a few Photoshop shortcuts while observing a junior designer at work.

— Commanded Learning: The intern learns about how to print out a PDF and display it properly on foam boards at the studio because it is their standard practice and a presentation is coming up. The intern has been told to do this because the job needs to be done.

— I am fine with engaging in market values and capitalism but I believe that appealing to a young student’s hunger and passion as an excuse to exploit them is unethical.

— I believe an overt awareness that an internship is part of capitalism helps in separating reality from the false idea that an internship is an inherent rite of passage because all too often it excuses exploitation.

— I have done many things for free because the compensations and benefits of the project outside of the financial were deemed worthy. But that is a personal decision and one I evaluate on a per-project-basis. A business entity cannot make you come to that conclusion and implying that it is a dangerous grey area.

— Internships can hurt mobility especially to students of color and those from low-income backgrounds.

— The practice of keeping long-term interns (over 6 months) makes it harder to justify the existence of entry-level salaried jobs. Furthermore, there is a rising trend of graduates completing 3 or more internships after school before finding employment because the role and responsibilities of interns have grown faster than the traditional agency model.

— Unpaid internships contribute to structural unemployment and recessions as much as they are caused by them. “An increased supply of free labor tends to displace full-time workers and increase unemployment, which contributes to worsening economic conditions and failing to reach one of the macroeconomic goals of full employment.” (Source)

— Unless college credit can be obtained, I will personally not take on any interns until I can afford to provide that person an admittedly less than glamorous, but ultimately livable wage. I would instead, contract that student as a freelancer.

— If we must accept the notion that internship is an inherent part of a design practice then we can only conclude that the main benefactor should the student and not the studio. This thought should be the driving force behind each decision from the studio. Who is really benefitting from asking the intern to stay late tonight to finish a job?

— If college credit can be obtained, but I cannot afford to give the prospective intern a livable wage, I will pay them minimum wage (if allowed by their institution) while treating it as a college course. They come in 1-2 times a week,  and I would dedicate 3-5 hours per visit my full attention to them. We can take on client work or we can go to a museum and talk about life. If internships are a rite of passage then an internship is not as much about someone helping me as it is about me helping them.