Unpaid interns are common in architecture firms, but recent lawsuits brought by interns across other industries may have the architecture industry forking out some cash.
In many industries, the term ‘intern’ is often used to describe someone who works for no pay, but the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ Intern Development Program in America has been trying to detach interns from the assumption by architecture firms that they are willing to work for free. The council defines architectural internships as post-graduate, pre-registration professional work.
Kelly McAlonie, president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York says there is an expectation for recent grads to intern, so there needs to be fair compensation. She feels so strongly about the issue that she sent an email to members of the University of Buffalo letting them know that it’s unethical and possibly illegal to accept work by an intern without compensation regardless of whether the industry is experiencing financial hardship or a financial boom.
Interns have gone unpaid for decades and rarely draw attention to the matter in hopes that their hard work will pay off, eventually leading to a paid position.
Several former interns are beginning to speak up and share their stories of working 30 unpaid hours per week, or pulling all-nighters to get a project off the ground without receiving compensation. Knowing recent graduates need the experience, employers have the upper hand because they know someone is bound to take the unpaid job.
Architect Paul Segal teaches his architecture students at Columbia University to stand up for themselves and demand compensation for their work. He says employers will respect them more if they do so, and says unpaid internships are not recognized by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards industry licensing anyways.
If an intern is shadowing an employer, if the student earns academic credit for the work, or if the employer sees no immediate advantage from the relationship, then compensation is not required. However, the 1938 federal Fair Labour Standards Act says interns must be paid at least minimum wage in all other circumstances.
Thomas Penn, a Long Island architect, says the architecture industry is known for eating its young and that the practice of not paying for work continues. The Department of Labour has a set of criteria to determine if someone is an employee or an intern. Although the standards are somewhat open-ended and create a grey area, architecture firms might want to err on the side of safety to avoid a lawsuit.
Interns, meanwhile, may choose to follow the lead of their peers in other industries, where interns are taking a stand against employers to put an end to the exploitation of unpaid labour disguised as internships.