UC Santa Barbara
An Ethnographic Study of the Complexities of Designing and Gaining Access to an Internship
- Author(s): Bacon, Richard
- Advisor(s): Green, Judith L
- et al.
Internships have been characterized as workplace-based learning opportunities (Stretch and Harp, 1991). As such, they have their roots in the medical and nursing professions where an internship is a formal step in achieving the professional accreditation needed to be hired in these particular occupations. In recent years, internships have become a far more widespread phenomenon to the extent that many employers expect graduate applicants to have held at least one internship, and often more, and are reported to use internships as a way of identifying future employees. The importance of the role of internships in serving to facilitate the transition of young people from educational institutions to places of work is evidenced by the offers from companies and recruitment companies on the Internet for internships in employment disciplines that include marketing, sales, retail, engineering, finance, human resources, and law.
Prior research on internships indicates that graduates who have an internship experience have a higher probability of securing employment at a higher salary than those who do not gain this experience. There are others who claim that internships, that are often low-paid or unpaid, are used by companies to displace full-time higher paid, salaried employees and to, thereby, reduce their wage costs. In addition, U.S. survey data indicate that internships are used by companies as a tool to evaluate potential recruits for full-time roles. There are few empirical studies of what takes place within internships and the impact of the experience for the student, existing employees, and the company where the internship takes place. There is also a paucity of prior research on how companies go about designing internships and recruiting student participants.
This study makes visible, using an interactional ethnographic approach, how an internship was designed, for what purpose, and how an intern was identified and selected for that position through a process of recruitment. This empirical study was conducted by the CEO of ACME who led the efforts by the company to recruit an intern in which activity he played a central role. The CEO-researcher/researcher-CEO—stepping back from ethnocentrism (Heath & Street, 2008) and emic knowledge of the actions, activity, and events—assembled a corpus of data and re-entered the research archive to conduct an analysis of what transpired between the many actors, how, and in what ways the internship formed and developed, and with what outcomes. Findings from the study challenge prior research findings on recruitment processes, identify social equity factors that influence who has access to internship opportunities, and identify the roles of different actors and how they shaped who may have access to an internship and under what conditions. Finally, this study has demonstrated how the empirical analysis of business processes (e.g., the design of an internship and recruitment of an intern) that uses an interactional ethnographic approach (as opposed to an organization behavior approach) can uncover the consequences for individuals and companies of how and in what way, with whom, for what purpose, drawing on what resources they interact with each other in particular social contexts.