A Law Colleges Love

I’ve often wondered why so many people go to college instead of learning on the job by offering to work for free for a company they like.  Turns out, it’s not that easy to work for free.  In most cases, it’s illegal.

Consider the absurdity of this setup.  Young people are supposed to do something to enhance their earning potential.  Without any knowledge or experience, they do not produce enough value to be worth hiring in most promising career areas.  So they’ve got to do something to gain skills.  Since they’re not worth paying, and it’s illegal to have unpaid workers, they can’t get on the job experience.

It’s supposed to be illegal to have unpaid workers because we wouldn’t want poor, unskilled people being taken advantage of.  Instead, they’re directed to college, where not only do they not earn money, they must borrow tens of thousands just for the privilege of not being paid.  They have limited choice as to what skills they learn, as a huge number of courses and credits are required in areas of little interest to them.  It takes at least three or four years to finish.

When they do finish, it’s often the case that they are only a little more valuable to employers than they were before – and much of that is a product of them being four years older and more mature, not any particular knowledge gained.  Most of the needed skills still must be learned on the job.  Most graduates have no idea what kind of job appeals to them or what they excel at, because they spent time in classrooms, not at workplaces trying different things out.

There are, of course, complicated work-arounds.  Non-profits and degree granting institutions can setup legal unpaid internships in some cases, and some businesses can do certain types of apprenticeships, on the condition that they create no value.

Let me repeat that: as long as unpaid apprentices do not help the business in any way – better yet if they destroy value – it’s possible to have one.  You think I’m joking, but read this language, pasted directly from the SBA website where they list the guidelines for a legal, unpaid apprenticeship.  This is number four in a list of six criteria:

“The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded”

We want young people to learn how to create value, but certainly not by actually creating it!  We want businesses to create wealth, but not if trainees do it!

You reap what you sow.

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