Federal Judge Outlaws Internships
Anyone looking for work should read a seminal column, "How to Get a Job," by Tom Friedman of The New York Times. Three key points:
• Harvard education expert Tony Wagner [said] that the world doesn't care anymore what you know; all it cares "is what you can do with what you know."
• [Employers] increasingly don't care how those skills were acquired: home schooling, an online university, a massive open online course, or Yale. They just want to know one thing: Can you add value?
• "Too many of the "skills you need in the workplace today are not being taught by colleges." -Elenora Sharef, Co-founder, HireArt.
How to Acquire Skills Not Taught in Schools: Become an Intern.
As readers of this online column know, in my 15th summer I apprenticed as an unpaid intern at the Ivoryton, Conn. summer playhouse.
I had to pay tuition (acting lessons) plus room and board. I thought I wanted to be an actor, but quickly discovered 1) I had no talent and 2) hated being out in front of people.
But that summer of 1951 was terrific! I spent 12 splendid weeks working like a demon for no money, doing whatever I was told to do. I painted scenery, cleaned johns, shoveled garbage, hefted ice into the air-cooling system, assisted on the lights, did sound effects and cued actors who were likely to muff lines.
Working with stage manager Bill Dalzell, I learned what went on behind the curtain and stage-managed several productions in college.
I had the unmatched excitement of working with a then unknown Bob Fosse who was spectacular as the star of Rogers and Hart's Pal Joey. Others I worked with included Joan Bennett, Eve Arden, Lawrence Tibbett, Marlon Brando, Cedric Hardwicke and Vivica Lindfors, to name a few.
Most important of all, I learned how to write a press release and my first effort for the playhouse ran verbatim in The Middletown Press. Imagine seeing something you wrote at age 15 appearing in print! It was thrilling.
That internship changed my life. It was then I decided to become a writer.
Being a gung-ho believer in internships, I was appalled when I came across the following story:
Interns Win Huge Victory in Labor Lawsuit Against Fox
UPDATED: Fox says it is "very disappointed" after two interns who worked on "Black Swan" are granted a summary judgment win, while another intern who worked in Fox's corporate department will now be leading a class action suit.
In a ruling that is likely to be scrutinized throughout Hollywood—and maybe corporate America at large—a federal judge on Tuesday handed a couple of the interns suing Fox Searchlight a victory on summary judgment and also certified a class action over the internship programs of Fox Entertainment Group.
The lawsuit was first brought in late 2011 by two interns—Alex Footman and Eric Glatt—who both worked on Fox Searchlight's "Black Swan" and claimed that the company's unpaid internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws. —Eriq Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter, June 11, 2013
C'mon guys. If you're an intern, you're gonna get some crappy assignments. You should be glad you have a place to go every day and something to do!
It seems to me if these turkeys were unhappy working for Fox, they were free to quit and seek employment elsewhere.
Now with a nasty lawsuit all over the Internet, a potential employer would be nuts to hire them.
My Experience Working With Interns
When Peggy and I moved to Philly 21 years ago to take over Target Marketing, we hired a couple of our junior editors as unpaid interns under a Temple University study-work program.
These young women were crackerjacks—hard working, enthusiastic and thrilled to be on the firing line. I worked closely with them and watched them turn into first-rate journalists. Whereupon after graduation they were hired. Hallie Mummert went on to become a terrific editor-in-chief of Target Marketing and Lisa Yorgey worked her way up to managing editor.
From our point of view, we weren't taking a gamble on a couple of recent college grads, who may have spent the past four years dealing in theory. We trained them. We knew their work and they moved up rapidly.
The concept of interning is a win-win deal for all concerned.
A Foot in the Door
Early this summer I met a young woman—a sophomore in college—who had landed a prestigious internship at an iconic Philadelphia cultural institution. I gave her three words of advice:
"Make yourself indispensable."
Take every assignment and do it with enthusiasm, I told her. Make life easier for the people you are working for. If the work is slow, ask for more. Volunteer for anything that comes along.
"Ask questions," I told her and repeated a line from Ray Schultz of DM News: "The only stupid question is the question you don't ask."
This young woman will be graduating college in two years. Then what?
- If the organization where she's interning has an opening, she could be in line for a full-time job.
- At the very least, she'll get a reference for her résumé and maybe some leads to other jobs in the area or in that field.
The Latest Intern Lawsuit
As I was about to send this column in for publication, a story broke here in Philly that two interns were suing Comcast-NBCUniversal. According to Inquirer journalist Bob Fernandez:
The two NBCUniversal interns, Jesse Moore and Monet Eliastam, claimed in their suit filed on July 3 that they booked travel arrangements, processed petty cash, greeted guests, answered phones, got coffee, and hushed people when they walked into the studio, in their unpaid internships.
Moore and Eliastam said they worked unpaid at least 24 hours a week. Because it classified workers as unpaid or underpaid interns, NBCUniversal did not have to provide unemployment benefits, workers' compensation insurance, or Social Security contributions, according to the suit.
My take: These guys were working inside a big business. Travel arrangements, petty cash, answering phones—that's the nitty-gritty that graduates from Wharton or Harvard Business School never see. It's a taste of corporate culture from the inside.
Let Me Share a Story
In 1958, when I was in U.S. Army, once every two weeks I had KP—Kitchen Police. I scrubbed pots and pans, cleaned up the dining room, peeled potatoes, ran dishes through the washing machine and then stacked them on shelves.
We would show up at 4:45 a.m. and have our breakfast at 5:30 so as to be ready for the onslaught of hungry troopers from 6:00 to 7:30.
One morning I was standing in the breakfast line watching a kid crack eggs on the griddle and bust the yolks in the process. With not enough butter on the griddle surface plus the runny yolks, the kid's end product was hard gray moosh and disgusting.
I walked behind the griddle and elbowed the kid aside to show him how it was done. I broke the eggs into a brown pressed wood cereal bowl, slobbered butter all over the griddle and flopped the eggs in twos out of the bowl and onto the cooking surface. After a minute or so I gently flipped the eggs and then slid them onto the plates of my fellow KPs, who were grateful. These were works of culinary art!
As I was creating this fine breakfast, I asked the kid how he got the job of cooking eggs.
"I just graduated from Army cooking school. This is my first day."
"And you can't fry eggs," I said. "What the hell did they teach you?"
You want to hire MBAs and Ph.Ds who know theory and have never seen the inner workings of a company?
And oh, by the way, here's a 2006 AdAge.com story from my private archive (swipe file). I labeled it MBAs, Not Worth Shit:
Don't Study Too Hard: MBA's Fail at Marketing: Survey Finds Those With Degrees Underperform
If you want to be successful in marketing, don't get an M.B.A.
The degree is not only worthless, it can work against a marketer, according to a survey of marketing executives from 32 consumer-products companies by consulting firm Ken Coogan & Partners. The study used scanner and panel data from VNU's ACNielsen to show marketers from companies with significant market-share gains are far less likely to have M.B.A.s than those from companies posting significant share losses.
Takeaways to Consider
- I'll take an eager intern to train as a writer over a hotshot, know-it-all MBA any time.
- Internships can be win-win deals for all concerned.
- The two whining interns—Alex Footman and Eric Glatt who sued Fox for labor violations—are all over the Internet now. This story will follow them for the rest of their lives. A potential employer would be nuts to hire them.
- The mantra of politicians these days is "less government and smaller government." If so, get the politicians and judges the hell out of our businesses.
- If I were 60 years younger, I would love an internship where I could watch a major motion picture being filmed—just as I was mesmerized watching Bob Fosse rehearse the dance sequences for Pal Joey.
- If you're an intern, you're gonna get some crappy assignments. But you have a place to go every day, work with professionals whom normally could not get near and learn about a business from the inside.
- Not happy as an intern? Quit.
- In short, internships can get young people in the door and acquire skills to put on a résumé.