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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Should Unemployed Older Workers Be Able To Intern For Free? Your Reaction?

  Are You Making A Radical Career Change?

Let's say you are one of the unfortunate unemployed skilled workers who chose a lifelong career in an industry that has rapidly decayed , such as the automobile industry, mortgage lending or real estate sales.  You finally decide it is time for a change at age 47. Your new career of choice is to become a social media marketing guru. But you have little expertise in this area. So you are smart, determined and want to dedicate the next 6 month to "retraining".

You could go to school but that would cost  perhaps a few thousand dollars you do not have.So you do some networking and find some hot local companies that are willing to give you an opportunity to make this career transition. But they want you to train for free as an apprentice/intern.
In most states this is not legal if you are providing any real work product of value. It also usually requires a minimum wage. But it is done everyday by many small businesses.
So I ask you.

  • Why not take the opportunity that could help you make a major career transition?
  • Why should governments interfere in a mutual agreement that allows a skilled worker to learn something new that might further their career?
  • Is this ethically OK?
  • Should federal and state laws be changed to help facilitate this , not hinder it?
Is it time to go Back to the Future. Where real apprenticeships and mentor-ships allowed skills to passed on to a new (not allows younger) generation of workers.  Your insights and Comments are encouraged below.

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22 Post a Comment :

Steve said...

The article was more interesting than useful. If one such as myself is receiving unemployment benefits, working as an intern for no pay would not be a big problem. But I could see how, as an older person, doing something that feels like work, but not getting paid for it, could be demotivating and frustrating.

jkath1818 said...

"Should" an older worker be able to intern for free? Why not?? There are advantages: keeping one's hand in the game within one's own industry; getting a feel for and exposure within a parallel job; feeling the value of helping out, especially if the internship is in a non-profit or true start-up setting. If a person, older or otherwise, can afford to participate in an unpaid internship, then the only proviso I can think of is to be careful that you are not being brain-picked by a company that could and should be paying you for your services.

brianbigel said...

Why would I want to do that? I would really have to see that would be a payoff later in some kind of bonus or better pay.

pkostek said...

The plus side can be for someone that has completed course work and yet is stymied by the question of do you have experience, an internship can provide a chance to apply new skills. Going in there needs to be agreement is this just an internship, e.g. 90 days, or is there an opportunity to turn this into a long-term assignment? If this is clearly understood then it makes sense(well for some people). The downside, is making sure the internship does provide the needed experience. So everyone has to go into this with their eyes open and agreed to expectations.

oceanflash08 said...

The question is how does a person who is older find a way to effectively learn a new career while still working? Very difficult. So can a prospective expert or potential employer provide a mentorship or internship role?

Anonymous said...

I think you may want to check with your local unemployment office if you are currently collecting benefits to see if this would affect your benefits. They may want you to be spending your time looking for employment.

Lisa said...

There are many people who donate their time & services for free through volunteer organizations, and the work is very satisfying. Money and satisfying work do NOT have to go hand in hand.

The benefit is the opportunity for experience. Unemployment has no problem paying benefits for "worker retraining" so why would they have an issue over "apprenticeship"? That's how ALL employees used to learn their craft back in the day.

The downside would be whether or not companies would lay off experienced highly paid employees for the opportunity to get someone for free.

oceanflash08 said...

Lisa, We agree. But I think we need to do a little research on this issue. Try to get back with a new article on this issue in the near future.

A.D. said...

I would do it without hesitating.
Sometimes we complain that companies don´t invest in us....but Do WE really invest in us? This is the key point.
This is a case where you see if you invest in yourself !

In fact I´ve not done exactly the same (I am 47) but something that is pretty close.
As the industries/markets are rapidly evolving, I think It´s better to adapt to the new conditions and be quickly in the start line again than longing for the good old times....

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm missing something let's get rid of more workers rights.
It's an awfully big leap of faith that an internship without being tied into a college related program.
An experienced older worker with a work history and ethic and real world experience has value.
It becomes an issue of how much lower do we have to sink.
It is one thing volunteering for non profits quite another for profits. Even students lose out with this internships students make a little money while in school.
This is another pie in the sky approach to problems.

Anonymous said...

Heck, why don't we just extend this concept across the board. Maybe we can have people work for free as a standard practice. We could compete with Cambodia, Viet Nam, or Pakistan in a race to the bottom. If we got rid of those pesky restrictions on hours worked, maybe we could have the free workers work around the clock, and when they finally got to some point where they would be considered for a higher wage, we just get rid of them and hire another "apprentice."
At the dawn of the 20th Century, workers unions united workers to improve conditions in sweat shops, set constrains for child labor, and improve working conditions, while our economy grew. The unions won the 40 hour work week, safety monitoring, vacation time, and a host of other improvements. With every improvement business cried that they would go bankrupt. They didn’t. They thrived.
Whether older workers, or younger workers, I don’t think a return to the Medieval apprentice system, or a 19th Century apprentice system is the answer. My own experience is that companies show no flexibility in regard to hiring. They look for VERY NARROW and specific certifications and training. I believe that this is because companies now view employees as WIDGETS. They no longer train, or reassign. They replace. I think that if we train workers (including older ones) in a Workforce Investment Act type of program and then provide businesses with incentives (tax reduction?... but not free labor). That may be a reasonable approach.
In regard to free labor and the treatment of workers…what’s next, debtor’s prisons? Industrial slavery?

Anonymous said...

Recently I went back to college to make a career change, the program for an associates degree did'nt offer internships. The college suggests volunteer, which they don't say when signing the dotted line to enroll. Also, the degree I obtained you can't just walk into a volunteer position with HIPAA laws. So if anyone was to make a career change I would advise to do the research first before going into college debt. If I could intern for free to gain the required experience I would do it in a heartbeat, now I feel my college degree is just on paper only.

seniormoment said...

It worked for me. I worked for free for 4 months, then they started paying for my gas to work, then finally decided to hire me full time

oceanflash08 said...

Congratulation Seniormoment. What type of internship did you do? Also what was your previous career? thanks

Anonymous said...


Due to our current economic circumstaneces I think if the laws should be changed to allow a person to work for free if it is career change type of internship.

Employers would need to monitored so they are not taking adavantage of people to get free labor.

But, I do not expect the laws to be changed, because of the potential for abuse by employers.

KimberlyC said...

Yes! I would most definitely intern for free. I am recently unemployed and faced with fact that the industry in which I was working is rapidly evolving. I know I need to make upgrade my skills and learn new skills. But, I don't dare go back to school and take on student loan debt UNTIL I have a job that will allow me to pay that off. The current set of laws and state of the economy have us trapped.

Gail Gardner said...

There is much that someone with life experience can bring to skills that are now in demand. Many of them can be learned very quickly and lead to paid work within days. Instead of looking for a service job that pays poorly I encourage people to consider never having a J.O.B. (Just Over Broke) again.

It would not be difficult to develop a demand for specific tasks IF a person is dependable and trustworthy. I would gladly mentor and then recommend anyone who does exceptional work and get them into paid work as quickly as possible.

Once there is just ONE dependable person I can count on then growing demand for what they do into enough work for many others can be accomplished. All that is holding that back right now is that many are not self-starters and this is not for people who need a supervisor cracking a whip over them.

Do be aware there are many who would take advantage of interns just as they do employees and want to keep them unpaid for as long as possible. Interns should only be exchanging their time for work value during the time they are being trained and honing their skills to a specific level. (Yes - that gray area could bite you - so use discernment regarding who is ethical enough NOT to take advantage.)

Not long ago one blogger I know started doing subcontracted work for one of the most successful Virtual Assistants I know on my recommendation. She is being paid $25 an hour which indicates to me that my VA friend has a strong business model.

Many experienced workers can and should do this. Why work for peanuts in a job you hate when you can accomplish far more working for yourself, supporting small businesses and your local community, and creating a better standard of living for many?

Gail Gardner said...

The government is not our Daddy, we are NOT perpetual children and we do NOT need their permission to create new ways to survive.

When have they ever been the solution? They will just keep printing money and causing the value of the dollar to slide so stop looking to them and work on making a world that works.

What does government do well? And you want them to protect you from selfish people who would take advantage of you? That is NOT how the world has EVER worked. Be a grown up and don't let people take advantage of you.

Whatever you, do DO NOT fall for the idea that if you only have another college degree or training you are guaranteed a great job. PhDs with experience are unemployed. Do NOT take on more debt! "You need a degree" is corporate-speak for we don't want to promote your or pay you more now" and we want to string you along so you don't bail.

There is a great saying that is very often true: The A students (good little conforming girls and boys that they are) end up working for the B students (who would rather boss than work) who manage the companies OWNED by the C students (and college dropouts). I can say this as I WAS an A student but I understand the game.

The skills you need can be obtained FOR FREE and you can even be paid while getting valuable experience.

Even better, you can use social media and blogging skills to reach an audience so valuable to small business that they will benefit from advertising with you and hiring you to write about them and manage their social media. I will try to share a link that elaborates on this idea in another comment - not sure if that will work.

Gail Gardner said...

My post that brings together Blogging Collaborations Best Practices includes information on how to position yourself where the money is and create influential blogs that generate demand for your skills. That post is here:

Gail Gardner said...

I forgot to mention that I provide free mentoring and will use my reach and influence to recommend and support ethical people doing excellent work.

The primary qualifications needed are a good attitude, the ability to self-start, and caring about the quality of what you do. You must be highly ethical and care as much about others as you do yourself.

I also mentor small businesses and help as many as I can. Ability to pay is not required, but those who can afford to assist in covering my outrageously low overhead are greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

This commentary has been useful. And Gail, how can I contact you?

Anonymous said...

Though interesting as a discussion, I think this problem concerns not only over 40's, but young people without relevent working experience as well. To protect all those lacking relevant experience from employers who gladly use "free labor" on one hand, and to make sure the potential "intern" also wants to invest, I would argue some allowance for costs should be given and / or a guarantee for a job after satisfactory fullfilling the internship.

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