Defining Workable Education Models: A Closer Look at "Internships"

Last month we reviewed apprenticeships, which are rigorous, well-defined and regulated training programs
that are registered by the Department of Labor and operated by an industry, a professional organization, a college, or technical school, or a union. The basic model for most apprenticeships is that the apprentice works half of a day and attends classes the second half and are employees of a company. Generally they are about four years long (but defined by a number of hours), and progress in a defined sequence of work and classes. Additionally, some articulate for credit towards a two-year associate degree.

This month, we will tackle a much less defined student work experience: the internship. Last month, I said that these experiences could be paid, or unpaid. However, a recent ruling by a district court in the Midwest said that the interns (plaintiffs) in question should be paid. The proceedings highlighted when "unpaid" interns are legal. Six criteria from the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division capture the essence of any internship experience, despite focusing on the unpaid variety.
  1. The internship has to be for the benefit of the student/intern.
  2. The internship is similar to training that would be given in an educational institution.
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
  4. The employer that provides the training gains no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the end of the internship.
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages during the internship.
Interns are often required to graduate with a particular degree. Some are “courses,” and have a course number for which college students actually pay tuition. This particular situation emphasizes the “educational” component in #2 above. Typical expectations for this type of internship is close oversight by a faculty, or teacher, “assignments” related to the work experiences that are shared amongst the students in the internship class, and a recorded grade for the course (might be satisfactory/non-satisfactory) that will document the experience on the student's transcript. In Florida, student internships are also a required component of the Gold Level Career Academies, and are defined as educational in nature. They may be paid, or unpaid.

Many times internships at all levels (high school, state/community college and university) in STEM fields are paid experiences. Internships vary in length and are defined by college course requirements, the company host, or the school program. They range from a few days to a year, or more. Some companies work closely with local educational institutions, while others (mostly large corporations) offer internships independent of specific educational institutions.

Internships provide the opportunity for host companies to be closely connected to local educational
programs that are of interest to them. They can influence the curriculum of the programs as well as provide mentorship to the teacher, and/or professors, and help mold the experience of their future workforce. This in and of itself can be extremely valuable to any company that regularly hires young people to fill the ranks of their workforce. Additionally, the employer and student both get to “try out” the working arrangement and determine if there is a good fit. All of this, with no obligation from either party.

In closing, I would like to emphasize items 1 and 2 on the Department of Labor criteria list for unpaid internships. Internship experiences should benefit the intern and must be part of his/her education. Contrast that to the apprenticeship. Recall, that an apprentice is a regular employee of the company. Although the apprentice may be in a training situation at work (e.g., on-the-job-training) his/ her work is supposed to contribute to the company’s “bottom line” as with any other regular employee.  

Please take a few moments to relax and read the articles this month. We proudly make a toast to a Florida manufacturer and a past FLATE awardee for winning the national HI-TEC Industry Award. Additionally, we talk with professor Dr. Will Tyson, P.I of the PathTECH grant looking closely at the career pathways of students in engineering technology, and highlight FLATE’s ongoing outreach initiatives targeted to educate and engage women and girls in STEM. Finally, take a few minutes to get up-close and personal with Jon Arias, an international exchange student from Basque country who is here in Florida as part of a global technician training grant. Last, but not the least, don't forget to give your best shot at this month's sTEm-at-work puzzle! It might be one of the more challenging ones of the puzzle series, but it will get you thinking!