Fashion Internships A Shadowy Industry
Due to the specialized nature of retail and fashion, “on the job” training has always been an integral part of the industry. In some cases, this apprenticeship was informal, especially in family businesses, but it was also formal through internships (internships), in which young people were hired to learn a trade in a workshop with the aim of becoming full time employees.
These individual internships (practical) also turned into internal certification programs, especially in large retailers, where this learning could be delivered at scale, though still locally. For example, the training programs in the United States within Neiman Marcus in Dallas or Macy’s in New York. However, as fashion became more corporate and globalized, this type of informal and formal learning largely disappeared, or moved into a human resources function, leaving a void in the training process. the employees.
Do you prefer to listen? The full podcast on this topic, part of the “Future of Fashion Education” series, is here.
Paralleling the shift from fashion education to undergraduate programs has been the growth of internships , where companies collaborate with academic institutions to hire unpaid workers who do menial jobs, with the promise that students will gain real-world experience and training, and possibly a job at the end of their internship. In theory, this system would seem to benefit all students, especially if the internship is part of the academic program they study. But in practice, internships they have largely favored economically more advantaged students, normalized unpaid work, and often do not lead to full-time employment.
First, the practices have largely favored the better off for a number of reasons. The first is that students with more financial means have a stronger network of acquaintances. It is often through their parents that they can access internships in general, or the best opportunities to do their internships. The second is that, as internships are tied to academic credits (as a way of legalizing unpaid work), students are essentially paying for their own internships. So students must make a decision between paying for an internship (practical), or paying for another elective, so as not to increase their base tuition. Those with more money can do both more easily. And the third reason is that many students often have to work in order to pay their tuition. Doing an internship in addition to studying and having a paid job is almost impossible. Also, it is rare for schools to allow paid work to count as internships, and if they do,
As an additional barrier, many students choose schools in cities where the cost of living and studying is high. The end result is that students with greater economic means have more opportunities to do professional practices and, therefore, to obtain a job upon graduation. And this means that the pipeline of new employees in the industry does not match the diversity of the student population, thus perpetuating problems of lack of diversity, and even more sensitive ones such as systemic racism, within the retail and hospitality industries. fashion.
Additionally, with the exponential growth of fashion programs and fashion students, the internship market has become increasingly competitive. Therefore, companies can raise the requirements for hiring an intern. It’s not uncommon to see job descriptions for internships that more closely resemble a first or second full-time paid job. The perfect example of this was the McQueen internship scandal in 2013, which was looking for a highly qualified designer to be an intern. And with the economy shifting to technology, many companies are taking advantage of digital native students to support certain areas of their business, like social media, instead of hiring full-time paid employees.
In the United States, for example, this has an additional layer of complexity. Due to workers’ rights laws for students from other countries, internships are also part of a deeper conversation about higher education in general. For example, it is not unusual for international students in the United States to obtain Optional Internship Training, known as OPT, in order to extend their stay in the country in the hope of landing a job and a longer visa. This has turned universities into a means to achieve a greater goal, beyond education, generating a deeper conversation about the purpose of internships.
Due to these kinds of problems, the spotlight has been put on the shady internship industry. States like New York have enacted laws to ensure greater transparency in internship programs, requiring compensation or credits in exchange for work. The UK has a law against unpaid internships. And while these measures have helped to some extent, the reality for students remains largely the same, suggesting that students need to be provided with more meaningful “on-the-job” learning experiences and real skills, along with a pathway to paid employment.
Wait next week for the next installment in this series dedicated to fashion education. We will analyze how American and European universities, especially in the field of fashion education, depend heavily on international students, especially from China and India, who are willing to pay full tuition, changing the way in which local students can access education in their own countries. Or, listen to the episode on our podcast.