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The Evolution of the Intern
December 4, 2013
D.C. Living Brings Appreciation for the Metro for WISH Intern

Here’s a pop quiz just to get you ready for Finals. When did the first internships start? Don’t stop reading this to Google the answer. We’ll give you a hint: William the Conqueror sat on the throne in England. Or at least, he could have. That’s because internships originated with the trade guilds of Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. Master craftsmen and tradesmen took in young learners and gave them menial tasks that make filing and taking out the garbage look like paradise.

Today, internships are seen as a valuable asset for providing students with the experience and skills they need to start their career paths off on the best foot possible. So, lets take a look at the history of how the internship has evolved so that you can get a better understanding of why it’s such a benefit to YOU.

Always Two There Are

In the 11th Century, the Guild System apprenticeship was born. Apprentices were those who learned by experience under skilled workers of a trade, craft or art. In effect, they were the Masters, and they passed on what they knew to those that would follow them one day. This ensured that the most skilled people would always fill the right roles. However, it wasn’t until 1562 that the next major milestone occurred. The Statute of Artificers passed, requiring apprenticeships for anyone wishing to practice a trade. Read: work backbreaking labor for free with the possibility of getting paid some day. Sound familiar? At least we’re making real progress here. Which is great because…

Nothing Happened For Another 500 Years

It was the Industrial Revolution, which invented the workplace and replaced the old trades with more formalized professional education, that brought real change to the world. “Social work, engineering, teaching and business all embraced the professional ideal,” says Sanford Jacoby, professor and vice chairman of the University of California, Los Angeles, Anderson School of Management. That ideal, Jacoby adds, “was a combination of academic and practical knowledge, usually with certification of some sort, internal governance, like a guild, and also an ethos of social responsibility. There had always been an apprenticeship in medicine, but now it became a standard part of education, an internship.” The magic word.

Thus, in 1906, the first academic internship was created in the United States at the University of Cincinnati. And guess what department it was in? If you said “accounting,” you’d be right. Proving once again that the more things change, the more they stay EXACTLY the same.

The Modern World And Beyond

Fast forward to today. By 1999, 80% of college seniors completed at least one internship. And the number of colleges and universities offering internship or coop programs increased from 200 to 1,000. The Digital Age has also seen the advent of social recruiting and the virtual internship. Thirty-three percent of employers hire virtual interns, while a whopping 92% of recruiters use social media for recruiting. And the numbers don’t stop there, either. Try these stats on for size:

  • 70% of interns are more likely to be hired by employers with a company
  • 66% of employers think relevant work experience is the most important factor when hiring
  • Within one year of being hired, 86% of former interns are still on the job. Compared to 81% of those who didn’t intern.

So, a few things have happened since the Middle Ages.

But in reality the primary purpose of the internship hasn’t changed at all. And understanding the past is a great way to inform your future. As the internship has evolved, so too has your career path. Where that path leads is entirely up to you. Remember, you are only the apprentice now so that one day you can become the master. So, make your journey as epic as it can be.