Intern Erin McDermott, right, has had several state government… (Baltimore Sun photo by Jed…)
Sudesna Batajoo had resigned herself to another summer job in retail sales.
The 20-year-old rising Loyola University junior faced one of the worst job markets in decades and feared she would never get an internship related to her business major, much less one that paid. But then came the unexpected: three offers.
After sharply scaling back during the recession, many companies are again expanding internship programs. Both employers and university career centers are seeing stronger demand for interns this year. And a survey released last month by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows intern hiring is expected to edge up 3 percent this year after plunging more than 20 percent last year.
That's not only good news for Batajoo and college students across the country; it's also a sign that a recovery may be under way in the job market.
The employment picture is being closely gauged by economists and job seekers alike. While there have been significant signs of improvement, layoffs continue and hiring by private employers slowed sharply in May, according to the most recent statistics. The overall national unemployment rate dipped to 9.7 percent, but virtually all of the job creation came from the hiring of temporary census workers.
Intern hiring "signals that the economy is getting a little bit better," said Edwin Koc, director of strategic and foundation research for the association of colleges and employers, whose members include those who work in human resources and college career centers.
As business begins to pick up, many companies are able to bring in temporary workers and short-term interns before they commit to the additional hiring of permanent workers, Koc added. "Usually when internships go up, they go up concurrent with an increase in temporary workers, which is a precursor for the labor market taking off," he said.
For college grads, internships have long bridged a path from the campus to the workplace. During an economic downturn, they can be vital.
"A big concern is what if I don't get a job after graduation," Batajoo said. "With internships, you get to learn what you study in class and apply it in your work. It's a great way to find out what I want to do and see how things work."
Batajoo applied for three paid internships and received offers from all three employers. She chose a Web marketing position at a Hampden-based chain of Verizon cell phone stores, where she began last month and is working on marketing and customer service projects for the company's president.
The majority of the internships tracked in the survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers are paid jobs at large employers, Koc said. The group does not ask respondents about whether internships are paid, but the survey is much more heavily weighted toward employers that typically do pay, Koc said.
Internships generally must be paid, under federal labor laws, although exceptions exist for nonprofit groups and, under certain conditions, at for-profit companies. Unpaid internships must meet federally mandated guidelines. For instance, if they fail to offer an educational component, they could violate minimum-wage laws.
Regulators have increasingly focused on the issue as unpaid positions have come under federal scrutiny recently after news reports noted an increase in the number of unpaid internships during the recession.
Several states, including Oregon and California, also have investigated whether unpaid internships violate labor laws. In Maryland, officials have not received complaints about unpaid internships, according to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Loyola University and the University of Maryland, College Park said they've seen increases in intern job postings.
At Loyola, the number of internships posted by companies has nearly doubled, from 400 during the 2008-2009 academic year to 700 during the school year that just ended, said Jen Rowley, assistant director and internship coordinator for the university's Career Center. Loyola's sharp increase was likely the result of both the improving economy and the university's aggressive campaign with companies in response to the slowdown, Rowley said.
"Employers are looking for students who can come in with a certain set of skills and apply what they have learned in class to a work environment," Rowley said.
At College Park, the number of intern postings rose 3.5 percent, to 2,597, in the 2009-2010 academic year from 2,505 in the previous year.
"That's a good indication that we're turning the corner, and we're starting to see employers continuing to grow internships," said Erin Rooney-Eckel, associate director of the university's career center.