Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Taking on Unpaid Internships with Sweatober!

The National Emerging Museum Professionals Network (NEMPN) is taking aim at unpaid internships, seeking to end the practice in museums, libraries, and archives. The Network launched its inaugural "Sweatober" campaign to fund previously unpaid internships in museums and to encourage individuals to “sweat to pay interns.”

A dual-purpose campaign, Sweatober operates like a walk-a-thon, encouraging participants to “get moving” and to raise funds while they do it. Participants can register as teams or individuals, and donors can offer support by the number of exercise minutes recorded or with a flat monetary donation. Participants commit to a minimum of 200 minutes and to raise $200. The campaign also features branded gear, and all proceeds support the program.

“We launched Sweatober to bring attention to unpaid internships and the detriment they cause to young professionals’ early careers and their long-term earning and career potential,” said Sierra Van Ryck de Groot, co-President of the NEMPN Board of Directors. “NEMPN hears from far too many young professionals who enter the museum field only to find that they can’t afford the career that they’ve chosen, and then they have to give up their passion. Unpaid internships, which presently make up most of the opportunities in the field, play a significant role in this.”

As of August 2021, more than 40-percent of internships across all industries in the United States remain unpaid, and students with unpaid internships on their resumes can expect to earn far less at full-time jobs than those with paid internships.

According to Van Ryck de Groot, part of the problem is that internships are often required for incoming museum professionals to get an interview for a full-time position. “In museums, we consistently see entry-level positions with base entry-level pay requiring two to three years of relevant work experience on top of a degree,” she said. “This means that those coming into the field out of college must secure an internship for three out of four years of their college experience, and paid internships are rare.”

Unpaid internships create troubling trends in pay inequity for paid professionals. In the museum industry, incoming professionals with a four-year degree can expect to earn less than $40,000 per year on average across all U.S. cities, and those with unpaid internships don’t have the connections, experience, or salary history to leverage towards a job. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found in 2016 that the non-profit job offer rate for graduates with paid internships on their resumes was 51.7-percent versus 41.5-percent for those with unpaid internships. Compounding the problem, the study found that entry-level non-profit professionals who completed unpaid internships were offered up to $10,500 less than those who had secured paid internships.

“Young professionals who take on unpaid internships start their careers on unequal footing,” said Sierra Polisar, co-President of the NEMPN Board of Directors. “They’re conditioned to believe that experience and the mission are more important than being able to pay your bills, and often, they’re paying tuition for internship credits in addition to not getting paid. On top of that, they are often missing out on the types of learning and networking experiences that come with paid internships, where organizations are more invested in the outcome. All of these things make it difficult to get an interview, get an offer, and negotiate for your present and your future.”

In addition to Sweatober, NEMPN will soon launch its signature Dreamweavers program to give internship coordinators the tools to transform their unpaid internship programs into paid learning experiences. “The goal of Dreamweavers is to put an end to unpaid internships and also to transform internships that don’t teach actionable skills into opportunities for interns to learn from people who are invested in their long-term success,” said Polisar. Dreamweavers launches in early 2022.

To join the Sweatober campaign against unpaid internships, register a team or donate at the Pledgeit Sweatober Campaign Headquarters.

To grab your Sweatober gear, visit the NEMPN Sweatober Store.

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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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