I just finished laughing my way through the classic movie “City Slickers” with Billy Crystal. Do you remember this one? It’s all about three good friends in the throes of middle age who sign up to be volunteers on a cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado. I’ve watched it many times and love the themes of friendship, adventure and finding what is uniquely meaningful to each of us in different chapters of our lives.
The Ultimate Unpaid Internship
But this time, I watched this movie from a different perspective . . . here are three friends paying a lot of money to essentially be volunteers on this cattle drive. As the story goes, the paid cowhands disappear one by one leaving only the volunteers and the herd of cattle. The other volunteers bail out – after all they are suppose to be “on vacation” leaving behind our three cowboy heroes. Now the cowboy volunteers are not getting paid to “bring the herd in” but they are committed. So risking life and limb in torrential rains they drive the herd for miles and deliver the livestock successfully to the cattle ranch owners several days later. For their efforts, the boss refunds their money and each of our cowboys goes home knowing that they have finally found the true “it” in their lives.
Working Without Pay But Loving It
Written in 1991, City Slickers gives us a fascinating glimpse at what would become a career & economic phenomenon in the 2000’s. People of all ages being willing to work for no or little pay for the experience and possible opportunities that this work could open up for them – sometimes even paying out of their own pocket for the opportunity (as I’ll be doing when I work in Greece in October). These positions can be called any number of things: internships, externships, job shadowing, apprenticeships, mentoring etc.
Both my college-age daughter and niece are doing summer internships here in Northern Nevada. Why? They are enjoying having this inside track to experience and do things they wouldn’t have been able to do through traditional hiring practices. And it very likely this unpaid work will give them some advantage in future paid job opportunities.
Is It Worth It?
I have to believe that it’s a win-win for both the intern and the businesses but it is an interesting wrinkle when interns are being used more and more to replace paid staff especially in a deep recession as we have been experiencing. In a brand new book “Intern Nation” Ross Perlin explores both the history and the pros and cons of “contingency labor”. It’s fascinating. Watch for more on this topic in my July First Monday Tip Newsletter. For now, I’m with Billy Crystal and his fellow “unpaid interns”. It’s too much fun to miss!