Internships: An Opportunity at any Age or Stage

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Internships: An Opportunity at any Age or Stage

A recent trending topic on LinkedIn caught my eye: “minterns.” It’s clever shorthand for “middle-career interns,” a growing phenomenon, particularly among millennials, who look for new jobs at higher rates than other age groups. Minterns are taking pay cuts and bold leaps to explore new roles and industries, demonstrating that internships can be a powerful tool at any age or career stage, not just when individuals are on summer break or fresh out of school. However, employers and interns must be proactive to ensure that their goals are aligned and that the work arrangement is fair.

Internships traditionally allowed individuals to get a foot in the door of a particular industry while still in college, or sometimes just after. In exchange for an entrée to the professional world, interns usually performed menial tasks for low pay. Yet the minternship trend is bringing a new twist: minterns are looking for meaningful, hands-on experience, the sort that can allow them to make a career shift or even a total professional transformation.

If both parties navigate the minternship relationship well, the individual reaps the advantages of new experience and mentorship, while the company benefits from having an enthusiastic new team member with fresh perspectives. To ensure the relationship is most beneficial, employers should expose their minterns to challenging tasks, offer them opportunities to attend meetings and witness negotiations, and find other ways to provide them with valuable insight into the day-to-day operations of their business. Business owners and managers should make sure to become familiar with minterns’ existing skill sets and leverage them to complement, and even improve, their current business.

In addition to providing opportunities for substantive work, employers should ensure their minterns are compensated fairly for their efforts. Employers who hire interns, regardless of age or experience, should be aware of federal, state, and local laws that regulate employee classifications as well as the corresponding wage and hour requirements. The Department of Labor recently adopted the “primary beneficiary” test to determine whether an intern is classified as an “employee,” and is therefore subject to minimum wage and overtime requirements. The federal test focuses on who the primary beneficiary of the workplace relationship is (the relevant factors can be found here). Many states and local jurisdictions have additional, stricter requirements. Determining what compensation arrangement is appropriate for an intern is a fact-intensive analysis and employers are encouraged to work with an experienced employment and business attorney to ensure compliance.

It would benefit individuals and the larger market to see more employers develop paid internship programs open to people who already have experience in the workforce. Such programs allow more mobility for employees who aren’t sure where their passion lies, and gives them additional opportunities to develop new skills and create fulfilling careers. If done right, the minternship trend can be a win-win for both employers and job seekers.