The Problem with Traditional Internships

Schools are not teaching students the necessary skills to be successful in the real world. Instead they are stunting them. To compensate, it is becoming increasingly necessary to turn to internships to acquire this knowledge. It would provide the hands-on practical experience these students or recent graduates need. Unfortunately, this comes at a time when there are fewer available due to changing labor laws and recent wave of lawsuits.

Employers are now either getting rid of internships all together or they are converting them to paid programs. Many companies, especially small ones or start-ups, are opting to skip the interns all together as opposed to paying them like an employee. However, taking away these opportunities will cause more harm than good to individuals, and ultimately society. We will remain unprepared for how to survive in the real world.  Our years of schooling have reinforced our innate learned helplessness. If we cannot immediately make a connection with lessons or instructions (or aren’t hand-fed the answer) then we are left dumbfounded, unable to solve the most basic of problems. It is far more important to help develop knowledge-evaluating and generating skills than to just stuff obsolete facts into our heads.

Worse than schools not actively participating in preparing our “leaders of tomorrow,” they have caused deleterious effects. Unfortunately our current educational system no longer educates the way it used to. Core curriculums are now geared directly towards the test. So if it is on the test, then it is taught. In doing so, we are not able to evaluate “higher order” thinking. This is probably for the best since independent thinking or thinking outside of the box has become a relic. The game has become one of rote rehearsal, memorization, and test taking. And you better excel on that test because apparently your value is now measured by these standardized tests.

It's all about getting an A in all classes instead of focusing on having classes specific to one's career. Students need classes related to their career. How is that 300 year old English book being read in English class going to help out if a student isn't an English major? You read the book and take a test on it but years later it most likely won't help you when you're in the middle of your career. More practical and related experience is required for the real world. There's no better way to gain experience than to actually have hands-on work.

There is no value in the type of internships you see on TV where it's all about getting coffee and filing papers. The problem with this is that some schools have their requirements so when a student goes off to that internship and has to do things that don't give them any experience with what they want to do in their career, they are essentially wasting three or more months of time they could have used getting valuable experience.

The precious, high-priced institutes we pay the big bucks for and go into debt for have erroneously left us with various mythic gems, including these mentioned in Forbes:

- If you earn good grades, you will be rewarded with a good job.

- Learning ends when you leave the classroom.

- There is a clear, simple path to success (hint: it’s college).

According to the Washington Post, the standard curriculum ignores these important fields of knowledge:

- Principles of group dynamics (essential knowledge in the workplace)

- Societal responses to loss of autonomy

- Effects of technological change on human relationships

- The dynamics of social change

While it is true that formal education can help provide a foundation for the knowledge and skills one needs, it is by no means the end of the road. Learning is an on-going process that never ends. And much of this learning can only be adequately enhanced by participation. Most of us fare better by “learning by doing.” Being thrown facts in a classroom setting does not equate to being prepared for the real world. We would not be taking these scarce unpaid internships if we did not truly believe we would be better off than we would be without the experience. A good internship has the potential to make someone far more marketable than earning an A in a class.