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Thread: Question on volunteering/internships

  1. #1

    Question on volunteering/internships

    I am an 09 graduate with a BA in Planning. During my undergrad I performed a 6 month internship with a planning department. Obviously, this hasn't been enough to get me full-time work, and the internship ended when I graduated. I've recently enrolled in an on-line MPA (I'm trying to leave California to get experience and better job prospects). However, some people have suggested to me that I could simply volunteer with planning or any public departments. I was under the impression that there were questions of legality when it came to volunteering. At least as a student, performing an unpaid internship would seem more appropriate. However, if this were indeed the case, the MPA would seem almost a waste of time and money. Has anyone volunteered for a prolonged period of time to gain work experience?

  2. #2
    I responded to you in your other thread, but i will go ahead and take a shot at this (slightly more focused) question. My advice: Don't volunteer for free. That's stupid. You're not going to get hired by anyone because you are so magnanimous as to enslave yourself for the hope of having a bureaucratic job. It used to be that an internship was a path to full-time employment. Not anymore. Today you have people working internship after internship with no end in sight. It's ridiculous. Go work at a department store and become manager and learn supervisor skills, how to manage shifts, inventory management, etc. You'll get more relevant experience doing that and making money than you would collecting recommendations for your LinkedIn profile.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by LAKings55 View post
    I am an 09 graduate with a BA in Planning. During my undergrad I performed a 6 month internship with a planning department. Obviously, this hasn't been enough to get me full-time work, and the internship ended when I graduated. I've recently enrolled in an on-line MPA (I'm trying to leave California to get experience and better job prospects). However, some people have suggested to me that I could simply volunteer with planning or any public departments. I was under the impression that there were questions of legality when it came to volunteering. At least as a student, performing an unpaid internship would seem more appropriate. However, if this were indeed the case, the MPA would seem almost a waste of time and money. Has anyone volunteered for a prolonged period of time to gain work experience?
    Unpaid experience is legal for any not-for-profit organization. So, non-profits and government agencies can have you working for free, even though the labor does not work towards your degree. However, for-profit organizations have a different set of rules. They either need to pay you, or show that the experience is for the benefit of your degree (i.e. supplemental to your classroom experience). The Fair Labor Standards Act identifies six requirements for a legal volunteer internship. They are:

    1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training available in a school;
    2. The training is for the benefit of the intern;
    3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under their close supervision;
    4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
    5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
    6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages.

    Link: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm

    These rules were not always the case, but due to the economy, a lot of companies have been pushing the limits of the ‘ethical treatment’ of interns. Keep in mind that this is not just a phenomenon impacting planning graduates either. As CC said, you have people working volunteer internship after internship with no end in sight. Regardless, some people still go through this because “you gotta do what you gotta do.”

    Now, I have worked two different volunteer internships. One of them was funded shortly after, but one of my internships remained unfunded for well over a year. And yes, I stayed with this organization because I was getting better experience than many of my peers working in a paid internship. Would I do it again, at least to the expent that I did? Probably not… But the amount of qualified candidates available is ridiculous, and experience matters more than your paycheck.

    Then again, I know of interns who have been working over 3 years just to get their foot in the door. Southern California, in particular, is a bad place to start out since everyone and their cat is trying to work there. Plus you have Cal Poly Pomona, Cal Poly SLO, UCLA, other UC and Cal State schools, USC, etc, that have planning programs churning out graduates. It is the nature of the beast, particularly in your area. If you are in school, I would find an internship simply to supplement your classroom experience. If you are able to move, I would cast a wider net.
    Last edited by dw914er; 03 Jan 2013 at 11:51 AM.
    And that concludes staff’s presentation...

  4. #4
    I can and will move. The question is whether or not to intern, here or anywhere for that matter. I could move to Oregon tomorrow and have a 16/hour warehouse job in the evenings and intern with a town, but will it still get me the experience? Everything I see that's "entry-level" wants 1-2 year "FULL-TIME" experience. Clearly not for those with internships (believe me, I've put in for them, even the city I work for now) So the question is. How does a college graduate get this experience, if not by volunteering, interning, and praying. I never thought I'd say this, but my dad was right. Should have done ROTC during college, hahaha.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I did Army ROTC and architecture during college. I also served in the national guard on top of that, and then 3/4 of the way through school switched into planning. ROTC is an officer training program, and most units (AROTC, NROTC, AFROTC) expect you to devote a considerable amount of time to their programs (often at the cost of your academic major). Most of cadets/midshipman were pursuing non-technical liberal arts degrees (history, philosophy, speech communications). Very few of then, myself included, pursued a technical/engineering/hard science major. It was a wonderful experience but I barely had a good night sleep for 4 years in college, and my grades often suffered from the time commitment.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    From my own observations of other professionals who have been laid off, most try and work as a part-time “consultant" while they are looking for another full-time job. Relevant experience will always help qualify you for a job, especially if the alternative is someone who has been watching soap operas all day. Besides, there are a lot of things about planning that you do not learn from school.

    At the same time, have realistic expectations regarding the internship. Some are willing to push through more because they really love the profession. Some cut their losses and move on. It dependant on what you want to do.
    And that concludes staff’s presentation...

  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    I did Army ROTC and architecture during college. I also served in the national guard on top of that, and then 3/4 of the way through school switched into planning. ROTC is an officer training program, and most units (AROTC, NROTC, AFROTC) expect you to devote a considerable amount of time to their programs (often at the cost of your academic major). Most of cadets/midshipman were pursuing non-technical liberal arts degrees (history, philosophy, speech communications). Very few of then, myself included, pursued a technical/engineering/hard science major. It was a wonderful experience but I barely had a good night sleep for 4 years in college, and my grades often suffered from the time commitment.
    I meant it as a means of securing a spot in OTS or OCS. Since I've actually applied to Air Force OTS since college, and the selection rates are tiny. Much higher for Army OCS, but still way down compared to other economic times. Of course in college, the recession hadn't hit yet, so I had no idea what I was in for, and the military seemed like a backup. However, I'd be lying if I say I didn't admire my parents while they were in the Air Force, and often wonder if I shouldn't just enlist. I'm still young (25) in great shape, no record, single, debt free, and willing to go anywhere. Plus I thrive in structured environments (private school, boy scouts, even did a paramilitary volunteer police academy)

  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by dw914er View post
    From my own observations of other professionals who have been laid off, most try and work as a part-time “consultant" while they are looking for another full-time job. Relevant experience will always help qualify you for a job, especially if the alternative is someone who has been watching soap operas all day. Besides, there are a lot of things about planning that you do not learn from school.

    At the same time, have realistic expectations regarding the internship. Some are willing to push through more because they really love the profession. Some cut their losses and move on. It dependant on what you want to do.
    Out of curiosity, what planning consulting, and/or private planning firms do you know of off the top of your head?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dw914er View post
    From my own observations of other professionals who have been laid off, most try and work as a part-time “consultant" while they are looking for another full-time job. Relevant experience will always help qualify you for a job, especially if the alternative is someone who has been watching soap operas all day. Besides, there are a lot of things about planning that you do not learn from school.

    At the same time, have realistic expectations regarding the internship. Some are willing to push through more because they really love the profession. Some cut their losses and move on. It dependant on what you want to do.
    I left a job in 2005 to go into consulting full-time. I can tell you that it is difficult. You do not simply announce that you are a consultant and start getting contracts. Just getting started has costs for equipment, software, materials, advertising, etc. I easily sank $25,000 into it in my first year and spend about another $10,000 each year, not including travel, which is easily as much. Self-employment taxes, health insurance, liability insurance, and other costs eat into income even more. Any memberships, conferences and training come out of my own pocket. too. When I started I had 20 years of experience and a solid network, as well as a long history of publishing and presenting, so that some people had at least heard of me. I still struggled to get clients, and while I more regularly land projects, I still put a huge effort into it.

    I agree that many planners who are laid off try to "consult", but most of them fail, or succeed just enough to still not make it. Many of them end up taking positions like one advertised recently, "consulting" for 20 hours per week at $20 per hour as a contract employee. That means you still pay both employer and employee shares of employment taxes and you receive no benefits, not even unemployment or workers compensation.

    As a starting planner you really do not have the option of consulting. There will always be someone with more experience competing, even for the really crappy, underpaid projects. You might have some luck contacting small firms like mine to offer specific services on an as-needed basis. For example, if you have GIS skills and access to the software, it makes more sense for me to outsource my mapping and analysis needs than to maintain the license and spend my own time doing the work.
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  10. #10
    At this point, I'm really starting to wonder if I shouldn't just start all over again in a different field, such as accounting. The MPA option seems like it could just be a waste of time. The problem is most universities around here (SoCal), don't accept second bachelor's, and in order to get my fee waiver through my father's military disability, I have to attend a state school within California. So, I'm limited in my options.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I left a job in 2005 to go into consulting full-time. I can tell you that it is difficult. You do not simply announce that you are a consultant and start getting contracts. Just getting started has costs for equipment, software, materials, advertising, etc. I easily sank $25,000 into it in my first year and spend about another $10,000 each year, not including travel, which is easily as much. Self-employment taxes, health insurance, liability insurance, and other costs eat into income even more. Any memberships, conferences and training come out of my own pocket. too. When I started I had 20 years of experience and a solid network, as well as a long history of publishing and presenting, so that some people had at least heard of me. I still struggled to get clients, and while I more regularly land projects, I still put a huge effort into it.

    I agree that many planners who are laid off try to "consult", but most of them fail, or succeed just enough to still not make it. Many of them end up taking positions like one advertised recently, "consulting" for 20 hours per week at $20 per hour as a contract employee. That means you still pay both employer and employee shares of employment taxes and you receive no benefits, not even unemployment or workers compensation.

    As a starting planner you really do not have the option of consulting. There will always be someone with more experience competing, even for the really crappy, underpaid projects. You might have some luck contacting small firms like mine to offer specific services on an as-needed basis. For example, if you have GIS skills and access to the software, it makes more sense for me to outsource my mapping and analysis needs than to maintain the license and spend my own time doing the work.
    This.

    Quote Originally posted by LAKings55 View post
    At this point, I'm really starting to wonder if I shouldn't just start all over again in a different field, such as accounting. The MPA option seems like it could just be a waste of time. The problem is most universities around here (SoCal), don't accept second bachelor's, and in order to get my fee waiver through my father's military disability, I have to attend a state school within California. So, I'm limited in my options.
    There are plenty of threads on this board that discuss where the planning profession is going. Read them before you decide.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Ethically, I have an issue with firms and governments exploiting under-employed people through "volunteerism." I'm fine with people volunteering with not-for-profits, doing planning work.. I do that myself in my spare time, but it is not, in my opinion, appropriate for firms and governments to take full-time volunteers for professional work.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    I responded to you in your other thread, but i will go ahead and take a shot at this (slightly more focused) question. My advice: Don't volunteer for free. That's stupid. You're not going to get hired by anyone because you are so magnanimous as to enslave yourself for the hope of having a bureaucratic job. It used to be that an internship was a path to full-time employment. Not anymore. Today you have people working internship after internship with no end in sight. It's ridiculous. Go work at a department store and become manager and learn supervisor skills, how to manage shifts, inventory management, etc. You'll get more relevant experience doing that and making money than you would collecting recommendations for your LinkedIn profile.
    I can 100% refute this post.

    I was told that the reason I was hired for this job (and it was even published in the newspaper as the top reason they brought me on board here) was because I walked into my County Planning Office where I went to college a month after graduation and volunteered to do whatever they needed me to do. Free, no strings attached.

    So yes, I am currently employed as a working functioning planner because I was so magnanimous to enslave myself for the hope of having a bureaucratic job

  14. #14
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I left a job in 2005 to go into consulting full-time. I can tell you that it is difficult. You do not simply announce that you are a consultant and start getting contracts.
    I understand that being a consultant starting out, especially a planning consultant, is very tough. The thread starter, as well as myself, would not be in a position to do what you did. My point was simply, based upon my observations of others in a wide range of careers, that it looks better to be doing something 'marketable' during the mean time rather than nothing at all, especially if you are trying to land a job. Since one of the questions posed was along the lines of “would it be a waste of time to intern/volunteer to build experience in order for me to get a job,” my response would be no (i.e. working as a paraprofessional is the preferred option). I worked as a volunteer even after I had my degree because of the aforementioned concept and as a result, that I am better prepared to “jump right in.” But along the lines of what CC said, the effort it takes for some to get in the foot in the door can seem ridiculous, especially if you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Given today’s climate, there is a point to where you feel like you’re spinning your wheels.

    If you’re just looking for a job, any job, interning and or volunteering might not be the best route. If you really want to be a planner, but need more experience, then you will have to find a way to get it. Some resort to a volunteer internship. It ultimately depends on what you are looking for.
    And that concludes staff’s presentation...

  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by AG74683 View post
    I can 100% refute this post.

    I was told that the reason I was hired for this job (and it was even published in the newspaper as the top reason they brought me on board here) was because I walked into my County Planning Office where I went to college a month after graduation and volunteered to do whatever they needed me to do. Free, no strings attached.

    So yes, I am currently employed as a working functioning planner because I was so magnanimous to enslave myself for the hope of having a bureaucratic job
    That seems to be about the only thing we young people with an education in planning can do these days. How long were you "enslaved?" Hahaha.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by AG74683 View post
    I can 100% refute this post.

    I was told that the reason I was hired for this job (and it was even published in the newspaper as the top reason they brought me on board here) was because I walked into my County Planning Office where I went to college a month after graduation and volunteered to do whatever they needed me to do. Free, no strings attached.

    So yes, I am currently employed as a working functioning planner because I was so magnanimous to enslave myself for the hope of having a bureaucratic job
    Well there you go, OP. This is your mission: to do exactly what this person says. Beat the pavement. Balls to the walls. Come back and report when you're done. Maybe you'll get a write-up in the local newspaper too!

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by LAKings55 View post
    That seems to be about the only thing we young people with an education in planning can do these days. How long were you "enslaved?" Hahaha.
    It actually wasn't really too long, and to be honest wasn't all that demanding. They were in a slow period, and really had no work set aside for me to do. I ended up assisting them with mostly GIS related issues (created a site plan and worked on a few CDBG Maps). It wasn't like I went in every day, I used my schools GIS lab to do the work and reported back once it was finished.

    If anything, volunteering gives you networking options. The planner I worked for would forward me any job opportunity that came across his desk, as well as allowed me to use him as a reference, which I otherwise wouldn't have had.

    Oh forgot to mention, they had a tax mapping job open up while I was volunteering. Ultimately I did not apply for it because I was hoping to leave the community (had been there far too long), that I almost certainly would have landed. Another point in support of the volunteering process, you're already there, why not see if you fit for a job that happens to open up.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    To clarify my earlier point, I didn't intend to suggest that unpaid internships post graduation can't be an effective way to network and get jobs. If you have such an opportunity and no better options, then you might very well want to take it. My point was that I believe that it isn't really ethical for employers to ask candidates to do such internships if they are actually getting paid on their part, whether by clients or by government budget, to provide those services. To me that's exploitative on their part, Especially for private firms: they're effectively just using your hard-won skills and services to increase their profit margins, since you can bet that they're actually billing YOU out to their clients at some rate (and not for free).

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    To clarify my earlier point, I didn't intend to suggest that unpaid internships post graduation can't be an effective way to network and get jobs. If you have such an opportunity and no better options, then you might very well want to take it. My point was that I believe that it isn't really ethical for employers to ask candidates to do such internships if they are actually getting paid on their part, whether by clients or by government budget, to provide those services. To me that's exploitative on their part, Especially for private firms: they're effectively just using your hard-won skills and services to increase their profit margins, since you can bet that they're actually billing YOU out to their clients at some rate (and not for free).
    Over the last two years my muni lost funding for our interns so we started doing volunteering efforts. We would feed projects, filling, and guided staff reports to them. I am happy to say all of them are gainfully employed now. We started paying again. If you go the volunteer route, make sure you don't volunteer to "file" paper, but can walk in with some sort of skill to provide an organization. Paying gigs should always be perferred, but if you do volunteer, it may be a good way to at least see if you want to stick it out in this profession.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    Timely article on the Today Show's website

    http://lifeinc.today.com/_news/2013/...workforce?lite

    Apparently, 40 year old interns are all the rage all over America, and not just in planning.

  21. #21
    Thanks for the tips folks. Just trying to decide where, and what departments (planning, city manager, etc) I'm interested in!

  22. #22

    Aicp 2013

    Anyone wants to join virtual group study for may 2013? we can skype or phone or foirm Fb group. there way too may things share and discuss that would be helpful. hope to get some reponsess..thanks much

  23. #23
    Ironically, having trouble even finding an internship or volunteer anymore. The best I get is "We'll let you know if any opportunities come up in the future."

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    I've had a paid environmental planning internship for the past 5 months but will be going to grad school in the fall. It's going to be tough to leave it after reading how difficult grabbing internships are. The experience ive gained is making me competitive for research assistant and co-op positions at my potential grad schools though. Plus I think I may have learned just about all that my current employment has to teach by then.

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