Whether you’re an aspiring designer or design professional, the topic of unpaid internships is probably of interest to you. At FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, students are encouraged to pursue internships while completing their degree to enhance their education in Graphic Design or Digital Media, and gain real-world design industry experience. Creative agencies have a lot to gain from hiring student interns who offer added support to their design teams, as well as a fresh perspective and a strong pool of candidates to choose from for future job openings.
However, both employers and interns should be aware of the rules in place for internship positions (both paid and unpaid), which are in place to support the ethical treatment of professional designers, as well as students in the workplace. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes the following federal regulations:
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.
Many states also have their own set of guidelines regarding internships, especially unpaid internships. California, for example, requires that interns receive college credit as a condition of being unpaid. Read more about California’s state laws regarding internships in an article The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not published by The New York Times.
Below are articles that have been published recently on this topic:
Unpaid Interns: Boon or Bane? by Tad Crawford (Communication Arts)
Be Smart about Student Internships by Shel Perkins who states,
“With the U.S. economy in recession, businesses of all types are looking for ways to reduce expenses. One popular strategy for reducing payroll costs is to seek out free labor in the form of student interns. However, design firm owners need to be aware that a number of federal and state laws apply to unpaid internship programs. If certain criteria are not met, then interns must be paid.”
The Cost of Free Labor by Kradel-Weitzel who states,
“Clearly, this issue is complicated. It is moral, it is legal and it needs attention. Unfortunately, those most immediately and directly affected by this issue-the students-are very unlikely to take action on their own for fear of damaging relationships with industry contacts. It is up to more experienced professionals to decide that this issue deserves consideration.”
Check this out too, the AIGA (professional association of designers) Philadelphia chapter has posted a public online pledge where you can promise to support the ethical treatment of professional designers and students in the workplace. Click here for more information.