Coffee Roasting Internships Are A Thing

A blog about business and economics.
May 15 2013 9:26 AM

Have You Heard The One About The Coffee Roasting Internship? It's Actually Totally Reasonable

Learning how to operate a coffee roaster like this one isn't an internship. It's more like a long job interview.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

For the past 24 hours or so, I've seen a lot of snarking on twitter about a coffee shop up in Washington DC's Petwoth neighborhood that's offering a "coffee roasting internship". Companies will do anything these days to find and exploit free labor! And how sick must the labor market be if people expect anyone to take such a job?

Except if you read the description it actually sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea that's being ruined by the use of the term "internship" (emphasis added):

We are currently seeking roasting interns to train under our owner and roastmaster. This is an unpaid internship, but not free labor. You will receive a comprehensive coffee education, including lectures and tasting sessions in addition to an hour or two of roaster training. The coffee you roast will not be sold to customers. You will also have access to a copious amount of free coffee. The purpose of the internship is to both educate participants as well as to serve as a talent search. At the end of the internship, which will last approximately eight hours spread over several sessions, one or two interns will be offered paid part-time roasting positions to start.

This is what I think we should call "training" and a "job search". Qualia Coffee, it seems, is looking to hire one or two part-time coffee roasters. The problem is that there isn't some large pool of skilled coffee roasters lying around. But as I've emphasized many times in the past, this kind of "skills mismatch" can't explain prolonged spells of unemployment. When you have a healthy labor market (and, indeed, in the DC metro area the unemployment rate is just 5.2 percent) employers will overcome skills mismatch by training workers. And that's what Qualia is doing here. They're running an 8-hour coffee roasting training program that's simultaneously a job search.

Their calculus is that, rather than picking who to hire first and then train them, it makes more sense to train first and see who does the best job of taking to the training. It's not obvious to me that Qualia's theory is correct, but it's not obvious to me that Qualia's theory is wrong either. The problem of identifying the right job candidate when you know the candidate doesn't have the skills you want is a difficult one, and it's appropriate that different firms will have different ideas about how to deal with it.

The world of internships contains a lot of nonsense and shenanigans, but this isn't on that list. They just shouldn't have called what amounts to a long job interview an unpaid internship.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Sept. 21 2014 11:00 AM Sometimes You Just Need to Print Your Photos the Old-Fashioned Way 
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.