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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Internship Politics

The Washington Post reports:
President Obama plans to issue an executive order, perhaps as early as this week, ending a federal internship program that critics say circumvents proper hiring practices.

Since it began in 2001, the Federal Career Intern Program has been used to hire more than 100,000 people - few of them interns as traditionally understood and many of them border and customs officers who later became permanent-status federal employees.

The program has drawn fire from federal employee unions and from the government board that oversees federal hiring practices, which ruled in November that the program undermined the rights of veterans, in particular, who were seeking federal work.

According to a draft copy of the executive order, which The Washington Post obtained from a person involved with the review process, the program will be terminated in March and be replaced with a program clearly designed to provide short-term federal work opportunities for recent graduates of schools of all kinds.

The Post follows up:

The federal internship program that President Obama plans to shut down in March has been criticized by union leaders for "abuses" that led to thousands of new hires that short-circuited the government's sometimes lengthy process for filling jobs.

But what were abuses to some, including the board that oversees federal hiring practices, were to many managers a welcome system of recruiting the best talent to their agencies. And they say scrapping the program in favor of one geared solely to recent school graduates will leave them at a big disadvantage.

"Taking any tool away from us when we're trying to make it easier for people to get hired is a bit like throwing out the baby with the bath water," said Toni Dawsey, who is retiring this week as chief of human capital for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "It's a real disappointment. The federal government is an old workforce. We need to bring in a new generation faster."

In July, the New York Times reported:

But the willingness of many young people to sacrifice pay for experience has led a number of states as well as the federal government to take a close look at the legality of hiring young people to work free. In April, the Obama administration issued a fact sheet listing six criteria aimed at preventing employers from violating the Fair Labor Standards Act with their unpaid internship programs. Among the stipulations: that the training the intern receives must be similar to training that can be obtained in an educational setting, that unpaid interns don’t displace a paid employee, and that the employer does not derive any “benefit” from the intern’s work.

The guidelines, from the Labor Department, have left employers scrambling to bulletproof their internship programs, said Camille Olson, a management-side employment attorney, who represents companies who have been dealing with this issue. Some employers, she said, have converted to paid internships but in the process have cut back on the number of posts they can offer. Others have abandoned their programs altogether.

Oscar Michelen, a labor lawyer in New York, said his son, a junior at Penn State, had secured a paid internship for the summer, but during his last week of classes the company suddenly pulled back the offer. “Companies were cutting back on the number,” he said. “They said we can only offer paid positions to rising seniors.” (The young man was able to find a six-week paid position at another firm.)

Dave Phillipson, the organizer of CEO Space, a California-based network of entrepreneurs, said he had been working on starting an internship program this summer but abandoned it “because of this silly ruling.”