Firms Eager For Unpaid Student Labor?

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Time there was when respectable employers in just about any industry took care to avoid looking like they were replacing paid staffers with volunteer or semi-volunteer interns.

A recent article in the Columbia Spectator, Columbia University's student newspaper, suggests the old injunction no longer carries much sway - outside of finance, at least.

Within finance, internship and job opportunities alike are vanishing. For instance, 50 percent of MBA schools surveyed by the MBA Career Services Council expect fewer financial internship opportunities this year for first-year students. (But 62 percent expect fewer internships outside of banking, Monday's Wall Street Journal reports.) A majority of the MBA schools report a significant decrease in campus recruiting, and a large majority report double-digit percentage declines in job postings.

On the other hand, the Spectator article by Aaron Kiersh calls the recession "a blessing in disguise" for students who aren't bent on finance. The reason seems to be that many non-financial employers are expanding internship opportunities to fill the void created by all the paid workers they're laying off.

"Employers need interns more than ever in this economy," Joe Starrs, head of an organization that places student interns with news organizations in Washington, D.C., told the Spectator. "This is to the students' benefit. The effects of the downturn are definitely two-sided," he added. Starrs is the director of the Institute for Political Journalism at the Washington-based Fund for American Studies.

New York recruiter Jonathan Hedvat, president of Creative Jobs Central, describes the current environment as a bull market for internship seekers. "As there are fewer jobs to go around, there are more internships available," he says. He's seeing more students pursue multiple internships to "polish their resumes." Creative Jobs Central focuses on placing students in the fashion, entertainment, music, and architecture fields.

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