Fed rules make free summer internships too expensive

April 6, 2010 at 11:40 pm 2 comments

I’m thinking of creating a summer shadow program because, apparently, one is no longer allowed to offer unpaid summer internships. God forbid, the government has said, that you might gain something from the work of a student. 

New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse had a very interesting story this week on the topic with some good links to the six federal criteria for running an internship program.

 I can think of few things stupider to do to our students when they are having a hard time finding jobs. While we don’t want to create slave labor summer camps, I would think there could be some balance that would help students gain some real experience and, dare I say, some of us with cut-to-the-bone departments (or agencies) get a little help while teaching. I guess I dare not say.

 Some of this ridiculousness we – the employers – have probably brought on ourselves. If we hire interns as interns, we have an obligation to teach them something other than how to run the photocopier. We all do some scut work, but they’re here to learn and it should be a privilege to teach them. I always told my interns that they will get some crappy jobs, but that they also would write at least one advertorial, one release for distribution, handle one special event and accompany me to meetings. I also asked them if there was something special they wanted to do. In short, they were treated as junior staff.

Apparently, however, allowing them to write that advertorial and release and handle that special event is bad, according to the feds. Somebody is going to have to tell me how I can teach an intern to write a release without having them do one.

 Mr. Greenhouse’s article was not news to me. K. Hovnanian Public Relations had, if I say so myself, an excellent internship program for quite a while. Our interns went on to some really exciting jobs. At least one learned that he didn’t want to do public relations, which I think is a terrific use of an internship.  

 When the real estate market headed south, it took my internship budget with it. I got away with the unpaid thing for a while, but then human resources waved the guidelines under my nose.

I’d love to know how other firms and small departments are dealing with unpaid internships. What are you doing?  Or have you just given up? Use the comment  key below to share your thoughts.

I’m thinking of creating a summer shadow program. It wouldn’t be for the whole summer, but I’m going to see if I can make it worth some credit. I’m sure the intern – I mean, shadow — will get underfoot, so that’ll meet one of the federal criteria. But, for at least a short time, they can see what a corporate public relations operation is. And maybe they can get away with writing a press release or helping with an event. Would that be worthwhile? Or perhaps I should ask if it would provide me with too much benefit.

Anyway, I’ll let you know what happens.


Entry filed under: Ethics in Public Relations, Public Relations Adventures at K. Hovnanian, stuff & rants. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

The more things change… Intern discussion heats up


  • 1. Norcross  |  April 7, 2010 at 12:19 am

    I’ve also read the article, and the examples they gave were pretty bad. Cleaning doorknobs and doing nothing but coffee runs? That’s clearly an abuse of the intent of an intern.

    That being said, why not pay them minimum wage? Nothing says you have to pay them market rate. Hell, pay them as a contractor and 1099 them so there isn’t any issues in regards to benefits, etc. It seems that a middle ground can be reached.

    • 2. dougtheprguy  |  April 7, 2010 at 11:22 am

      I think your solution would satisfy the feds. When we had it in the budget, we paid our interns $10 an hour. The problem now is there is no middle ground. I don’t have any budget to pay an intern anything. And now, I can’t do it because I feel the obligation to give back…which was always one of the reasons I had interns.



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