It is the best of times, it is the worst of times... for the lowly intern.
As the economy improves, there are certainly more internship opportunities. And many of those opportunities are now being paid, particularly in light of a ruling last year in favor of interns who accused Fox Pictures of violating minimum-wage laws. But unfortunately, interns continue to suffer abuse. Recently Bank of America promised to improve working conditions for its junior bankers after one of its summer interns died, allegedly from working 72 hours straight. And just this past week it was revealed that exhausted interns at Barclay's Bank were forced to take naps on toilets, prompting another financial services executive to offer his valuable words of wisdom: "If you love what you do, it's not work."
Nice. We are all touched by his sensitivity. This whole intern thing raises a few questions. Most importantly, how can these people in the banking industry be working so many hours when I can't even make deposit at my local branch after 3 p.m., huh? Oh, and I have other questions too. For example:
What the hell are the interns doing, anyway? These are college kids, right? I have three college kids of my own. They're incapable of cleaning the kitchen. One of my sons literally put diesel fuel into one of our cars because he wasn't paying attention and only became aware of it when someone else pumping gas pointed it out. Their friends are great kids, but no better. Who exactly is entrusting college kids with work so important and critical that they're working 72 hours straight? Is the work that important? There's no one else in the firm that can do it? These are financial services companies. Barclay's Bank just made $100 million in profits since I sat down to write this and they don't have a few extra bucks to bring in a few needed hands so that their interns aren't sleeping on toilets because of exhaustion? Also, in this day and age do you not realize that any work practices that could even potentially be considered as abusive will be immediately tweeted, Instagrammed and Snapchatted around the world for the media to pick up and exploit? As if you one-percenters need another public relations nightmare.
And interns, why in the hell are you taking this abuse? Are these jobs so important? Clearly, if you've been chosen to work at one of these elite Wall Street firms you're on of the elite kids at your elite Ivy League school. In other words, not my kids. Don't you realize that you're one of the 0.1 percent of 1 percent in the world? You're super smart. You'll get a job after you graduate, trust me. And probably with a much better quality of life than the places you're interning. With that in mind, must you work Christmas Eve like this guy? Catch a nap in the toilet? Have no life? You're in college! You have your entire life ahead of you to work long hours and get abused by your boss. You can delay this dream for a bit. So do you have to put up with this nonsense? How about standing up for yourself, recognize that you're better than this and understand that 99 percent of the employers in this world would kill to have someone as smart and hardworking as you on their staff. So why not say "f**k you" to the next guy who asks you to "build a financial model" for him over the weekend while he probably goes out and parties. You should be the one partying.
And finally, why is there a debate about paying interns? Interns should not be paid. They are interns. Back in the day apprentices paid their mentors to work for them for years so that they could learn how to make horseshoes and weave bonnets or whatever it was that people were making in the 19th century until they died of the flu before reaching 30. OK, we've progressed. But interns are just young, and (as far as my experience has been) earnest but dopey kids. They have no skills or experience -- that's what they're getting by being interns. They shouldn't be paid. Does this make it easier for "rich" kids who can afford not to have a summer job? Yes. So how about those rich financial firms pay their interns only if they have a financial need? Trust me, they can afford it. And it's less expensive than paying everyone who must work for them. In return and with the money saved, companies can justify having more interns, doing more things, so that everyone works less hours.
Let's all agree that internships are just a slave labor program that can have mutual benefits. If you're an employer you get to evaluate prospective employees and use them as low cost drones to get the busy work done. If you're a college kid you get to learn how to dress and act appropriately in a professional environment, build a little work experience and maybe find a good company to work for. If you're Owen Wilson, you get to hang out with Vince Vaughn, impress the higher-ups at Google and have sex with a smoking hot Google exec who's clearly out of your league but thinks you're cute. See? Internships can be a good, educational experience. And no one has to be sleeping in toilets.
A version of this column appeared in Philadelphia Magazine.
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