By Mandavi Mehrotra, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.
For all those young bloods who choose to burn the midnight oil and take internships for trade and vocational jobs, though even reluctantly when no stipends are given, serious questions of legitimacy and importance of internships/stages/work experience/industry experience pop up, especially in the Indian milieu. Interestingly, Indian culture has undergone sweeping modernization adapting to the western model of education. The long journey of the Indian educational spectrum from the Gurukul system till the present day culture featuring smart classes, practical and demonstrative pedagogy, experimentation, research and development and of course, job shadowing and internships. Today, internships are as career-specific as much as oriented towards the student’s subject of study or specialisation. Almost in all fields and walks of life internships are deemed imperative. From medicine, engineering, science and law to journalism, media and entertainment, culture and tourism sector- you name them and they all have interns. This sort of pedagogy has two-fold purposes to solve- first, it is an easy, sure-shot mode of learning and obtaining the necessary professional acumen apart from bridging skill gaps which have long existed between the traditional, theoretical learning and the practicalities of the field. Second, it is a short route to employment-one of the most coveted, expected outcomes in the form of increased probabilities of a pre placement offer (PPO) from their place of internships. Undeniably, the professional colleges and universities are the best attractions for the 10+2 passed out lot for they are eager to step their foot out for “exposure”. Fear of internships proving to be a dead end largely looms over the interns for the anticipation of remaining unemployed in the race of cut-throat competition continues until the hopeful happens.
However, in contrast to the western educational systems, India is yet to be counted in the list of countries which may comprise an “over-interned” population. Explanations for interning are obvious as well as understandable. Before putting forth, at length, the reasons behind the unconditional welcome of this modern mode of learning, it is imperative to discuss the serious economics that lies behind the sudden spurt of interns in the myriad of fields. Amidst a complex interplay of socio-economic conditions and demographical statistics involving a whopping population, (disguised) unemployment, fierce competition, slow-paced decrease in poverty, unstable job securities and its concerns, India did not take much time in adapting itself to the culture of internship chiefly in the highly professional, corporate and MNCs-oriented sectors. It is promising to note that governments too have opted for internships as means to incentivise the youth of the nation to contribute to a better tomorrow.
However, the legal sanctity and legitimacy of an intern in his workplace is as obscure as it is professionally meek. Indicating the grim situation of a law intern as judicial clerk is a case of hostile discrimination between a law graduate of a National Law school and a traditional law university which is pending before the Hon’ble Delhi High Court. Despite issues of absence of a recognised sanction and remuneration to interns, their unethical exploitation and unheeded progress index interns have always been overpowered by their overwhelming expectations for a marked degree of professional acumen, necessary skills and work experiences. Moreover, India’s interns are always paranoid about beautification of their resume in the process of which they undermine not only the value of the immeasurable and unpaid contribution they make to their workplace but also the value of their crucial time. Also, it is depressing to note that the Indian judiciary has had never discussed at length the internship culture in India. Statistics indicate dismal cases of exploitation and discrimination filed in the courts of law in scattered patterns pan India. In this backdrop, it is imperative to measure the pros and cons of this system. Charms of a paid internship are not only alluring but also financially helpful for an intern for the concomitant expenditures and allowances of accommodation, transportation and the like which accrue to an intern get conveniently met. The internships ought not only to be complementary to the classroom teaching but must also offer work sufficiently, ethically and ideally be paid, informed on prior notice of their nature of work and most importantly be provided with a healthy environment to work in. What is worrying about this whole system is the fact that in these post-modern times wherein even the subalterns have turned subject matters of pensive and in depth research and discussion, the rudderless, unrecognised community of interns finds no place for the same.
Important segments of this topic are the frequency and time periods of internships. As a repercussion of the vicious socio-economic plight of India, a combination of unplanned employers and hasty, unclear interns exacerbates the whole scenario. Even the educated members of the millennial generation who are locked out of the traditional career ladder and are having to settle for two, three and sometimes more internships after graduating college, all with no end in sight.
A culture of internships exist in India whereby it is completely normal for young people to think that working unpaid is just part of the process but the brighter part of the story is that exploitation is less felt and sacrifices made seem worthy when reasonable stipend is awarded. On the other hand, the version of the employers of the Indian educational, corporate and professional industry seems more solidifying with their constricted and unhealthy mentality of invitation to interns for not more than carrying their coffee mugs or doing only clerical jobs to save the interns from haplessness and dismay. They ought to grow up. In cases where interns are not remunerated for all their contribution, the wisdom of a prudent man does not shy away from terming it as an institutionalized form of wage theft. Statistical figures put forth by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) indicate that around 50% of the employers prefer seeing internships on the resume of their prospective employee but the sorry state of affairs lies with the fact that interns, in almost all fields, fall under the free labour class category. Another point to note is the geographical concentration of internship-friendly and professionally promising workplaces and offices in the metropolitan cities. Thousands of interns descend in the metropolitan cities for great experiences and skill training. This only exacerbates the situation of those thousands of meritorious but unfortunately, hand to mouth graduates and post-graduates who have no shelter in these big cities. The legal sector, for that matter, presents ever augmenting figures 1.7 million enrolled advocates in India. This is just one field where India is churning out approximately 60 to 70000 graduates annually all of whom practically cannot seek refuge in internships for their employment. Moreover, the disguised unemployment, which the market is circumstantially not ready to do away with, is reflected from the low lawyers-to-GDP ratio and the weak-average legal population density of one lawyer per 260 citizens in the country as compared to the legal markets of US and UK. The best ranking firms and chambers of high-profile lawyers seem ready to accommodate for employment the whole army of interns interestingly at promising rates but it is an employment only in the public consciousness. However, the unplanned sector of internships wherein carefree and disorganised employers of internees only frustrate the latter’s efforts needs to listen to the wakeup call. The economics and mathematics of vacancies in the internship sectors and the delimited intern absorption is highly disproportional. The writing is really on the wall or else the purpose of a significant number of laborious applicants is likely to get defeated.
Despite all this, India has set itself on the path of renewed optimism for interns in the form of invitation to offer government granted scholarships and internships for all opportunists, meritorious and laborious youth in myriad sectors. Understanding and absorbing the work sphere is utmost crucial for a sincere intern. The fields of law, science, engineering and journalism cannot be adequately learnt without actively participating and interning. India feels the dearth of standardization and planned internships. Indian internship culture is yet to unveil its avenues of virtual internships on a large scale. In fact, Indians more than often choose not to soak themselves in the culture of these drastic global developments.
Most of the internship applicants devote their time during their summer and winter breaks. In some universities, internship during the college breaks is made a compulsory part of the curriculum. Internship may be meant for a mild motive of discovering an interest in the field or more seriously, for obtaining employment in the concerned sector or workplace. The future of an intern keeps oscillating like a pendulum between the two extremes of a trained, industry ready, asset proving employee and a haplessly struggling unemployed intern. The guarantee of internships in the form of job security and employment based on skill and merit in the fastest growing democracy of the world is depressingly slow-paced. Nevertheless, the system deserves all the credit to uplift professional and career standards not only amongst the large chunk of applicants but also the needy employers. Henceforth, internships in India are all set on the path of growth. However, it is felt that judicial guidelines, legislative sanction and an awakened generation of interns are likely to polish this sector. Internships in India, after such measures is sure to get brightened up.