Professionals are not Interns

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    Christopher Patzke

    Recently a high-end, private firm in Cambridge, MA posted a listing on the ASLA website for an internship opportunity requiring a degree and a minimum of five years experience.  After it was brought to the ASLA’s attention that a professional level position was being advertised as an internship, the post was modified.  A second internship was posted on the site yesterday for the City of New York that requires either a degree or a license.  Since New York has clear title and practice laws, this posting also appears to be a professional level position.


    I believe that both postings lower the value of experience and education in our profession.  In a time when salaries are stagnant (or reduced), benefits are eroding and opportunities are scarce, I fear these predatory employment practices will significantly harm the profession as a whole even as the economy recovers.


    What do others think?  Apparently, there was only one complaint to the ASLA about these postings.  Are others willing to voice a concern for employment practices in our profession?

    Jennifer de Graaf

    Chris –


    I looked both of them up on Joblink.  To me, an internship is a low-paying or unpaid temporary position with the express purpose of helping entry level people gain some experience (and contacts, mentorship, and a letter of recommendation). 

    The MA one requires 4-6 years experience with confidence and the ability to get right to work, appears not to offer compensation, and promises nothing except the possibility that there might be work in the fall.


    The NY posting requires either a degree in landscape architecture or a LICENSE!  At least they mention some kind of compensation.  They need to decide what they’re looking for, because only one of those qualifications sounds like an internship candidate to me. 


    These ads do a disservice to our profession.  Joblink is public and anyone can look at these and make a judgement about the integrity of the field.  If I were still a student and saw these, I would find it very disappointing.  Forget that, I DO find it disappointing!


    My feeling is that many firms are too nervous to hire someone permanent and those above are mis-using the word intern.  They should be using words like “temporary” and “entry level”, then not asking for licensed and experienced professionals to work for too little or for free.


    I have had two experiences recently that I think are relevant, see below….but neither of these prospective employers mis-represented the work to me, both were perfectly clear.  I do think that they illustrate how things are changing:


    I had an interview with one company that asked me to work a couple of days as a “try-out”, something they were doing to make sure that candidates would be a good fit.  I agreed and got paid a small hourly rate for three days (I figure what could three days at low pay hurt?).  They continued to interview other people while I was there, and I was not the only temporary person working.  When they asked me to continue working beyond those three days, I insisted on my consulting rate (twice what they paid the first 3 days) and they agreed.  I worked full-time for a few weeks and pulled a project up to meet a deadline that otherwise would not have been met. They have since run out of extra work and filling the opening is “on hold”.


    The second experience was another local firm that also had a looming deadline and was under-staffed.  I was able to step-in, get the project to their deadline and they paid my consulting rate for the whole time.  They will be hiring again someday, but now that this deadline has been met, the crisis is over and I am not needed. 


    If either company needs more help sometime, maybe they’ll call me, and maybe not….  BUT, I would recommend that anyone faced with advertisements like these challenge those who posted them and insist on being paid a reasonable rate for the experience that you bring to the table.

    Jason T. Radice

    Sometimes its just a job-title thing and how it is handled in their pay classification system (for gov’t work). Manys firm use the term “intern” for anyone who is entry level and not licensed..i.e. recent grads, these are permanent jobs (at least the used to be). Of course, the other definition of intern is UNPAID and temporary. I could never understand this…they are doing work for you and you are making money on them, you should PAY THEM. Perhaps ASLA should come up with a standard nomenclature for these position when posting jobs on their board…such as intern, apprentice, so on and so forth.

    Christopher Patzke

    Jennifer I love your response!  Well written and insightful!  That’s why I loved working with you!


    Jason, I see your points and understand the idea that it’s just a job title.  On the other hand, I think of the latest discussions about the title Landscape Architect, and I have to think that there is more going on in both discussions than just a title.  In a nut shell, I think it is about what professional people with complex skill sets expect from their employers and colleagues.


    I hear Jon’s frustrations because I identify them and I share them.


    Lastly, I was surprised to hear from the ASLA, “yours was the only complaint we received.”  I know this is a small profession, but I don’t like the image of colleagues cowering in the corner because they are afraid to say “This is not right and I am not going to accept it.”  The ASLA should have received dozens of responses to these ads.  Our professional culture elevates the idea of ethics in design to a fetish, but it needs to address the ethics of employment.  





    Mark Lerch

    I have commented on this also. I believe you are correct. It is hard enough to find work now without having to compete with people that are willing to allow themselves to be exploited by predatory employers. The ASLA needs to create a separate forum for students that are interested in internships because an internship posting has no place on a job board.

    Heather Smith


    That is what I think of that.

    Leslie B Wagle

    A lot of thoughtful posts. Somehow it ties into the other questions about the value of being licensed or how far out of field to take work. I’m sure many of those who labored hard to get licensing enacted hoped that it would enhance the profession, but it took shape in a different economic environment. And it is the licensing requirements (the experience part) that may be the main background explanation for these ads.


    This is a stray thought, but I know in the fine arts there are always ads for creative people to work on small indie film projects “for the experience – no money to offer but you’ll get some cred and experience,” whereas big film projects just go about networking to pick up the known but higher-priced talent that made it to the next level.


    I think many of us went into landscape architecture because we hoped it was linked to established and accredited preparation pathways that would lead to a steady paycheck vs. endless stream of temporary piecework type of lifestyle. The ads may be showing there isn’t enough demand right now to prevent profiting from desperation, but if we don’t want it to become a habit we need to not reward it with responses and speak up. I don’t know what more we can do to foster opportunities for license seekers but without the distasteful side. Could la’s in the bigger cities set up some kind of community design centers in their offices after hours or at idle desks to connect younger professionals wanting to use their skills to potential clients with needs but low funds….thereby letting principals look over the younger shoulders without straining their own budgets. Maybe limit the service to nonprofits to keep big corporations from horning in, for example?  Or has anyone tried some kind of time banking?


    Last thought, I don’t know if I would trust someone who advertised for free help as a future reference. What would keep them from saying “Yes Person X was fine but we let them go” – leaving out the truth that they themselves didn’t have enough work? 

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