From Apprenticeship to Internship: The Social and Legal Antecedents of the Intern Economy

  • Alexandre Frenette


This article looks towards the future of the intern economy by focusing on its past. What led to recent debates about the intern economy? How did it become legally possible for interns to work for free? Using the United States as my case study, I draw parallels between the current intern economy and its closest historical antecedent, the apprenticeship system. By providing a brief overview of the history of work-based learning and the unpaid internship’s legal underpinnings, this article ultimately frames current lawsuits and debates as a correction to today’s insufficiently scrutinized youth labour regime not unlike the apprenticeship systems of the past. In the attempt to facilitate youth transitions from school to work, yet maintain minimum wage standards, government intervention and—more imminently likely—legal decisions will, I anticipate, eventually transform the intern economy much like the Fitzgerald Act of 1937 drastically formalized apprenticeships in the United States.

Author Biography

Alexandre Frenette

Alexandre Frenette specializes in the study of work, creative industries, and youth labour markets. He earned his Ph.D. in sociology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY) in 2014 and is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Using the music industry as a case study, he is currently working on a monograph about the challenges and the promise of internships as part of higher education, tentatively titled The Intern Economy: Laboring to Learn in the Music Industry.

Interrogating Internships: Conceptualizing Internships