Forbes.com has a historically interesting article on the “Evolution of Interns” which traces the history of internships and related types of work, and why they’ve become so important. The full article is here, and here is an excerpt:
Almost everyone seems to agree that an internship is a valuable part of career development. But if you were in college before the 1980s, chances are you never did anything called interning. So where did the experience come from, and how did it become such a seeming necessity for today’s future job-seekers?
Experts agree that in the largest sense, internships descend from the professional apprenticeships that originated with the trade guilds of Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. Master craftsmen and tradesmen took in young learners and gave them menial tasks that make filing and photocopying look plush. Apprentices served one master for most of their teen years. Then they could graduate to journeyman and start earning better wages. Often they chose to continue with the same masters.
The 1911 book Labor and Apprenticeship, by Reginald Bray, includes a section that discusses the main objectives of the apprenticeship system: supervision, training and filling job openings. It sounds a lot like today’s internships, but there are key differences.
“The current system has much less structure,” says Andrew Wender Cohen, a history professor at Syracuse University. “Apprenticeship would have gotten you into a guild, or in the early 20th century, would have gotten you into the union,” he says. “The concrete benefits of apprenticeship were more clear and were typically contractually stated.”
… Not until the late 1960s did formal internships as we know them start to appear.
As the demand for knowledge workers increased, so did the importance of the internship. “People began using it as a recruiting tool, and that’s what it is now,” Davis says. Most recruiting happens, she adds, in the finance, entertainment and health care industries, so that’s where many internships are. She adds that when internships really came in, during the 1980s, they were developed first by business schools.
… The internship has proved effective in preparing many for today’s job market, and experts don’t think it’s about to change substantially, at least for now. “If there is a big change,” Gross says, “it will be brought about by technology.”