Unpaid Internships are Unsatisfactory

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Unpaid Internships are Counterproductive for the Profession of Architecture

In our current rough economy, there has been much discussion among the profession on the topic of unpaid internships. One such online conversation revolved around a job posting that had surfaced due to a job search. (Lots of my brethren are out of work these days) It was a brief ad with the usual requirements one would expect for an architectural position. At the very end of this seemingly nice job posting, there was little hitch… “This position is for an unpaid internship. However a monthly honorarium will be provided for exceptional work.”

This is not an acceptable practice for many reasons.  First and foremost, if we as architects do not place value on ourselves, how will others. As architects, we feel we are constantly fighting to be valued. I read, hear and see it all the time. But what message does this unpaid job posting convey to others in and out of the profession. “We have no real value. It is not worth paying our own.” And I know that mainly those persons seeking employment would see this. But I had some very long conversations online about the subject.  I have 1000+ people who can read my conversation. And I was conversing with other that have even more followers who can read their posts. So just having this conversation made it possible for thousands to discover how some within our profession places no value on others in our profession. Not good practice.  We can’t expect anyone outside of the profession to place a value on architecture, when is seems we do not even do it ourselves.

The second issue here is how this propagates into the future. So someone fills this unpaid position. Then they determine that this is an accepted practice. Then in the future they choose to solicit unpaid interns as well. Why not? They had to do it when they first started. I have a feeling that this is a reason this situation is still active within our profession. I am fairly certain that back in the day, it was more commonplace to take an unpaid internship in hopes of someday becoming paid staff. The old habits of cryptic gray haired men that were perpetuated into each successive generation. My great grandfather walked across the county, in the snow, uphill, both ways to get to work. You know, he had no other option back in his day. I would hope that if he would have been able to ride a horse or drive a car or fly, he would have been smart enough to adapt and see the benefit in that change. I think that is the reason the architecture profession is in the circumstance it is in today.  I do not think our current profession should work this way. Not if we intend to survive into the future.  We must place value on ourselves. Make a statement (at the minimum) among our peers and counterparts that WE believe in the value of design, creativity, and the pursuit of equitable income.

Lastly, it implies that design is free. And design has no value. This is something that I feel all those who design anything have to fight against. Design and creativity has a price. It takes work and effort, even for those who make it look effortless.  And good design is not quick. It develops over time. A creative thought sparks many more until they can eventually generate a cohesive idea. This takes time. I believe a true designer is always at work. They design constantly. They design the world around them as they move through it. So it is always a work in progress. Again not everyone is capable of such creative process. And therein lies the intrinsic value of it. The reason that one should be paid to undertake that endeavor in any instance.  I know one could argue they are just “interns” and they know very little and bring very little to the office. But that just propagates the fallacy. If you are willing to even have them in your office, then they offer value. If not, you would just get monkeys to work for free.

Design is not free. Repeat. Design is not free.