In a tough economy, more people paying for internship placements

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From the Wall Street Journal:

Should You Pay For Your Kid’s Job Internship?

The darkening job market has many parents of college-age kids going to new extremes to help – by paying for access to job internships for them.

As described in today’s “Work & Family” Column, a growing number of parents are paying hundreds to thousands of dollars for programs that help their teens and young adults land the job internships deemed crucial to launching a career. And many parents and students say they’re delighted with the results.

Among several internship-placement companies that have sprung up in recent years, University of Dreams, Los Gatos, Calif., provides summer camp-like programs that provide students an entrée to eight-week job internships, plus campus housing and off-hours social and educational programming. The cost: $5,000 to $9,500. Another company, Fast Track Internships, Highland Village, Tex., helps polish students’ resumes and cover letters, identifies up to 300 employers for a targeted mailing, then prepares what amounts to a direct-mail campaign for the students to sign and mail themselves; its usual fee is $799.

In a related trend, more parents are buying internships for their kids outright, on charity Web sites., for example, raised money for nonprofits last year by selling internships at such employers as Rolling Stone and Elle magazines and Atlantic Records.

The whole idea of paying for internships is jarring to parents accustomed to finding work the old-fashioned way – by pounding the pavement. Critics say the trend risks deepening the divide between the haves and have-nots.

But executives at the internship programs contend they actually level the playing field by opening to all the kinds of opportunities that were once the province of the wealthy and well-connected. “It’s a huge misconception to say this is a program for rich kids,” says University of Dreams’ CEO Eric Lochtefeld. “The average student comes from the middle class, and their parents dig deep” to pay.

Also, parents who have used the services praise them as a big help in enabling students to gain experience and confidence in a tough job market. After spending tens of thousands of dollars or more on college tuition, many parents see spending more to help breach workplace hurdles as a sensible next step. As a confessed helicopter parent myself, I have to admit that I can see myself signing my kids up for one of these programs if they lacked other options.

Readers, what do you think? Do such experiences distort the job search for kids? Or are they a reasonable way to broaden college students’ access to opportunities in a dismal market?

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