Where did unpaid internships come from?
The very first interns weren’t carrying luggage around New York City. Instead, they were anesthetizing, bloodletting and vaccinating. Between the mid-1800s and World War II, interns were only found in hospitals. Medicine was considered a unique field that could only be learned through observing and hands-on practice. Those internships are now the medical field’s modern-day residencies.
Around the 1930s, education and business leaders started advocating for a more seamless transition from school to the workplace in areas other than medicine. Internships began spreading into other fields, first in public administration and later publishing, marketing and banking.
As more internships sprouted across the country, Congress passed a number of laws regulating them, including the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1947, which specifically lays out a 6-point test, still in use today, for hiring unpaid interns....
The real intern boom didn’t occur until the 1970s and 1980s. That’s when two big shifts occurred, says Perlin. The first was a move from the traditional norm of holding on to one job and working there your entire life to multiple forms of “contingent labor.” It’s what sociologist Andrew Ross has called the “casualization” of the U.S. labor force. Employers soon realized the benefits of part-time employees, independent contractors and temporary workers. By hiring contingent workers, employers could pay less in benefits, prevent workers’ attempts to unionize and initiate layoffs much more easily. That was coupled with the proliferation of Human Resource departments, which are now often solely responsible for hiring and bringing in new employees, many of whom often begin as interns through a company’s internship program....
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