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When did ‘intern’ become a career?

I remember being an intern and I remember hiring them.

Basically, the idea was free labor in return for work experience, that is until the Labor Department screwed it all up.

In the old days, the intern got their “foot in the door,” learned the culture of the company and made solid contacts that, in many cases, led to a regular-paying job. The company got an eager worker bee who did as they were told all the while being monitored for future openings. It was a win-win!

Oh how the times have changed. Besides the myriad of rules and regulations governing internships these days, the overall concept is taking quite a hit.

Blame it the downturn in the economy, blame it on a glut of college degrees or just blame it on a generation that has no idea what they want to do for a living, the definition of an intern is changing. Welcome to the Age of the Permanent Intern.

It would be too easy (and probably wrong) to equate this to things like the Occupy Movement or the notion that the younger generation is content to live in their parents’ home and play video games.

It seems there is a convergence of forces at work here. Take throngs of young people, diploma in hand, searching for ANY job that is even remotely related to their field of study and couple that with a workplace looking for a small number of people with very specific skills.

The disconnect seems to be the ability to match the interns up with an actual paying job. Either business has figured out how to squeeze free or low-paid labor out of a generation or that poly-sci degree has no intrinsic value to employers these days and you are, in effect, starting at ground zero.

Either way, when you hear about people talking “internships” in 2013, they are VERY different from the ones we all grew up with. Both good and bad.