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Apprentice or intern? Ross Perlin explains the difference in Lapham's Quarterly

Chris Webb20 May 2011

What is the difference between an intern and an apprentice? Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nationtackles this question in the latest issue of Lapham's Quarterly, where he traces the historical lineage of "internships" from the medieval guilds to the crowded newsroom.

[Interns] are our favorite white-collar peons, often unpaid or paid a pittance, loaded with little indignities and unprotected in the workplace. Apprenticeships, on the other hand, represent a humane, professional model for training and beginning a career-the justified successor to the European tradition of craft apprenticeship, minus the cruelty, coercion, and familial arrangements, sensibly updated for the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries.

Apprenticeships, outside of the trades, have all but dried up over the last century. Gone are the co-operative relations between master and student, which once provided young people with more than a bullet-point on a resume. The trend toward grueling unpaid internships is a relatively new one, which allows "companies to save on costs and cut corners while millions of college students (and their families) scramble and sacrifice."

While in today's labour market, unpaid internships are seen as "natural" steps in career development, the historical trajectory from apprentice to intern indicates that

... the notion of work is hardly an eternal verity—more like a shifting, uneven landscape, fought over and redefined in every culture and in every age, in spite of hallowed old chiselings in stone.  

Visit Lapham's Quarterly to read the article in full. 

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