Since it is getting time for college career fairs and planning for the summer, at least in the academic and graduation sense, I wanted to touch on the subject of Unpaid Internship Positions. Also in our current tough economy (and in the past for sure), I have had plenty of discussions among my colleagues and student employees on the topic of unpaid internships. Recently one of my conversations revolved around a job posting that had surfaced due to an individual’s job search. It was a brief job posting with the usual requirements one would expect for an entry-level architectural position. At the very end of this seemingly nice job posting, there was little hitch…
“This position is for an unpaid internship. However, a monthly honorarium will be provided for exceptional work.”
Wait, what? Seriously? Unpaid internships are counterproductive for the profession of architecture. This is not an acceptable practice for many reasons. First and foremost, if we as architects do not place value on ourselves, how can we expect others will do so? As architects, we feel we are constantly fighting to be valued for our knowledge and abilities. I read, hear and see it all the time and I have been for almost a decade. So what message does this unpaid job posting convey to others in and out of the profession … “We have no real value. We even are not worth paying our own within the profession.” And yes, I know that mainly those persons seeking employment would be the only ones to see this. But I have had some very long conversations about this subject matter. I have even more people online who have participated in this conversation. And then by having this online discussion with others opens this up to those outside the profession. So by the simple act of having this conversation made it possible for thousands to discover how some within our profession place no value on others within our profession. Not a good practice. Plain and simple. We can’t expect anyone outside of the profession to place a value on architecture when it seems we do not even do it amongst ourselves.
The second issue here is how this propagates into the future. So someone fills this unpaid position. Of course, they will. “It’s the opportunity to work for Big Name firm”. Then once they make it through, they determine that this is an acceptable practice. So then in turn, in the future, they choose to solicit unpaid interns as well. Why not? They had to do it when they first started. I have a very strong feeling that this is one reason (if not the main one) this situation is still active within our profession. I am fairly certain that back in the day, it was more commonplace to take an unpaid internship in hopes of someday becoming paid staff. These are old habits of cryptic gray-haired men from a century ago that have been perpetuated into each successive generation. My great grandfather walked across the county, in the snow, uphill, both ways to get to work. You know, he had no other option back in his day. I would hope that if he would have been able to ride a horse or drive a car or fly, he would have been smart enough to adapt and see the benefit of that change. I think that is the reason the architecture profession is in the circumstance it is in today. I do not think our current profession should work this way. Not if we intend to survive into the future. We must place value on ourselves. Make a statement (at the minimum) among our peers and counterparts that WE believe in the value of our skills, the value of design, of creativity, and the pursuit of equitable income.
Free is not Free
Lastly, this situation implies that design is free; along with the idea that design has no value. This is something that I feel all those who design anything have to fight against. Design and creativity have an inherent price. It takes work, time, and effort, even for those who make it look effortless. Good design is not quick. Ever. It develops over time. The skills to make it seem quick also take time. A single creative thought sparks many more ideas until they can eventually generate a cohesive idea. This takes time. I believe a true designer is always at work. They design constantly. They design the world around them as they move through it. So design is always a work in progress. Not everyone is capable of such a creative process and therein lies the intrinsic value of it; The value of our professional skill and knowledge. This is the reason that professionals should be paid to undertake that endeavor in any instance. I know it is possible to argue they are just “interns” and they know very little and bring very little into the office, but that simply propagates the fallacy. If you are willing to even have them in your office, then they offer value. If not, you would just get monkeys to work for free. You can teach monkeys to solve puzzles and click buttons.
In conclusion … Design is not free. If we get angry about the society around us not placing enough value on our profession, we cannot be hypocritical about the value we place on those entering our profession. Repeat. Design is not free.
Until next time,