Monday, October 11, 2010

Can (and should) interns work for free?

I found an interesting (and informative) article on the AIA's website regarding the AIA's rules regarding the circumstances under which an intern can work at a firm for free. The whole article is worth reading, but here are the six criteria that determine if an internship does not qualify for governance/protection under the Fair Labor and Standards Act:

    1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.

    2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.

    3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.

    4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.

    5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.

    6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Fair enough, but I think there's a bigger question at stake here. As one of my friends used to say in Studio, "Just because you can doesn't mean you should--consider the consequences." Working for free tells a firm--and a profession--just exactly how much you'll work for. Furthermore, I've noticed when interns have been super-underpaid or have worked for free, it does something to their souls, even their notion of self-worth. And yes, I know interns don't make a lot, but there are some interns who are getting paid even more poorly than the average intern, and that scars you. And I know that the present intern generation is supposed to be entitled and self-centered, but a) I've yet to meet any interns that are really all that entitled and self centered (six years of studio will beat the "entitled" right out of you), and b) if you go to school for six years and work your butt off, you have earned the right to be paid a fair wage for the work you're about to do, especially if the organization for which you toil is about to profit or otherwise benefit from the work you're doing. So I do strongly urge interns to think twice--nay, thrice--before accepting an unpaid internship at a firm--never sell yourself short.


  1. I believe it is also plausible to work as an unpaid intern if you receive both college credits and IDP credits for your time. I was under the impression when I was still in school doing summer internships that I could be compensated in only 2 of three ways, some combination of cash, credits, and IDP. So this might be an option for interns who are still in school, though not particularly helpful outside of summer.

  2. I agree.

    I am a self employed architect in Edinburgh, Scotland, who works from home. Depite posting on my website that I have no positions available, I still get CV's. Many, maybe even most, offer to work for free. I try to reply to all of them and tell them that they shouldnt EVER offer to work for free. If its that bad, start your own business. After all, if you are willing to ask others to emply you, you should be willing to employ yourself first.

  3. But what if there are no suitable jobs available, and unpaid internships seem to be the only choice, unless you work for something unrelated to architecture?
    Let's say you needed the experience but nobody's willing to hire you because you have no work experience/your portfolio is subpar, can unpaid internships still be an option?

  4. Anonymous: The answer is still unequivocally no. It is illegal to not pay someone who does work for a firm and the firm benefits from that work. By working for the firm for free, you are helping them break basic laws set forth by the US Department of Labor. If you're willing to work for free in architecture, you'e better off getting an unrelated job that pays something and then volunteering for something like Architecture for Humanity or a related nonprofit organization.

    Working as an intern for free cheapens all the work you've done, and it lowers the going rate for all interns...and IT'S AGAINST THE LAW. If a firm isn't willing to pay you, either with money or college credit (as Patrick states above), then they don't deserve to have any intern help. Period. No decent, self-respecting firm can penalize you for not working for free.