As with historical apprenticeships, modern internships are traditionally used to benefit both the novice employee and the employer. The novice gets valuable on-the-job training and experience that can enhance an entry-level resume; the employer receives free or cheap labor while hopefully building a skilled workforce for the future. Recent court decisions have endangered the unpaid internship, but engineering internships are still a viable part of the job market.
In a technical field, internships are a great way to ensure that new professionals are truly prepared for the job. Engineering firms can't afford to hire and babysit newbies who have never worked in the real world, but many firms are willing to foot the bill for engineering internships if it means better-qualified job candidates. In fact, engineering major Lindsey Latrice Sanders recommends that you treat an internship as an extensive job interview; according to Sanders, interns aren't just getting a feel for the workplace—sometimes, the workplace is getting a feel for the intern. Statistics from the National Association of Colleges and Employers back up Sanders' advice. In 2012, over half of college grads involved in paid internships received a job offer.
In some fields, internships are now declining due to stricter regulation regarding pay for interns. In a recent court case, interns sued Fox Searchlight using labor laws that define wage requirements. The individuals, who were hired as unpaid interns, completed work that regular staff members might be expected to complete. According to the Department of Labor, if interns displace employees, are entitled to a job at the end of the internship, or perform work that immediately benefits the employer, those interns must be paid as employees. The risks associated with offering unpaid internships because of this ruling mean that many engineering companies are opting for paid internship programs instead; while this may reduce the number of available opportunities for engineering students, it means that internships are in no danger of becoming extinct.
In fact, third-party organizations that understand the value of internships are stepping forward to work with companies to help them provide internship opportunities. The Ohio Third Frontier Internship program, or OTFI, is one example of a cooperative effort to provide work and education opportunities for students. The state partners with regional agencies to offer internships in technical areas; with the state government paying for half the cost of each internship, employers are able to offer more opportunities in fields such as mechanical engineering. Ohio benefits from such programs by offering incentives to young, skilled professionals who stay within the state.
Internships have evolved with changing social, economic, and legal requirements, but they are certainly not a thing of the past. In a technical field like engineering, internship opportunities are still valuable for both new professionals and employers; they are now also becoming a way for local markets to keep hold of valuable trained professionals.
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