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Is it time for the working student job to get a makeover?

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  • Is it time for the working student job to get a makeover?

    The SS thread got me thinking about the casualness of the working student positions in barns across the country.
    Underage girls often leave home, work long hours in barns or at shows in order to acquire more skills & knowledge & network in the horse industry. But, there is no regulation. Some kids get lucky & find themselves in a great program. Other kids get used as slave labor with not much supervision.
    Maybe it’s time for barns offering a working student position, to have a system in place.
    Students should have a central website, or Association to verify all the ws jobs available. Apply & rank their top choices.
    The ws jobs should have feedback from previous students, & perhaps a rating system.
    The ws should have an outside “ counselor “ from the association that checks in with them periodically.
    Maybe a test & certificate given once the ws job is complete.
    Perhaps the farms that offer ws jobs & become part of the WS association.... then need to meet certain regulations. Have proper paperwork, meet safety standards, etc.

    times are changing. The industry is changing. Thoughts?

  • #2
    I think this is a fantastic idea, and it begets lots of other questions:

    Who would run such an organization, a new governing body, an outside organization, or an existing governing body? Who would build and manage the website? How would trainers gain access to post jobs? How would jobs be vetted in the first place? Who would act as the counselors? Who would set the standards for the tests and certificates, and who would then write and evaluate those tests? Would the tests have any sort of meaning or clout once the WS has completed them? Etc.

    If and only if there is enough will from enough collective members to answer those questions and implement action will something ever be done. I personally don't see that coming to pass anytime soon when so many are either happy with the way things are, or struggling on a daily basis to keep the doors open.

    Maybe I'm too pessimistic?


    • #3
      I'd be thrilled if we could all just agree that working students would be covered by basic labor standards governing work hours, protection from hazards, and freedom from hostile work environments.

      But I am definitely a pessimist - as long as there are young people eager to accept working student positions in even the very worst of programs, there is no motivation for anything to change.
      "Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything
      that's even remotely true."

      Homer Simpson


      • #4
        This could be such a positive development!
        In my mind it points to the lack of an organized apprenticeship system in this country--the sort of system that builds the talent pipeline in Europe, while ensuring some standards and (a little bit) levelling the economic playing field.
        I know we aren't in a position to do what the European nations do, but we might learn from them.
        Never give up. Never give in. Never, never, never.


        • #5
          The problem as a whole is the mentality t across all industry that one has to "pay your dues" in order to be successful. One of the worst violators is the medical field.


          • #6
            How would you pay for the overhead of the oversight, credential records keeping, etc?


            • #7
              This service would be costly to run (time and money - plus you'd need to hire counselors for this model). There isn't much incentive to the barns to get up and run this type of a program or find someone who will since they get the help they need the way it is now... and yes, times are changing, but the farms have to have an incentive (or requirements like SS requires to compete in USEF events) to change. I agree with an above poster that pay and job conditions need to be governed and on the same level with other jobs.

              Not that I don't think there are some good ideas, but the execution would be a massive challenge without some big backing.
              Last edited by rockonxox; Jul. 10, 2019, 02:54 PM. Reason: grammar


              • #8
                I think it's a great idea, but would maybe only work for the most formal WS positions. Many just kind of happen when a hardworking kid puts in some extra barn time and it slowly becomes more and more official.

                One of the biggest issues that someone else mentioned is the idea that you have to "pay your dues". Many professionals got to where they are by working 14 hour days, never saying no to a ride, and just generally working themselves to death. It doesn't fly when you walk up to those people and say "I really have a passion for this and want to do this... but I'm going home after 8 hours." It's crazy because that is such a completely logical and reasonable request in most "real world" jobs, but it's just nothing compared to how hard many pros worked to get where they are (and still work). They just don't take that type of applicant as seriously.


                • #9
                  Here's one interesting example of a system from the UK. Looks like it's at least partially government funded, so yeah good luck having something like that take hold in the US. That said, this particular program smells a bit like EAP in that it's for teen athletes identified by the NGB as having great potential in the sport. So in that scenario, there could be some funding say from the USET foundation or similar body. Taking a close look, the pay really sucks. But, anyway, it's an example of a way this type of idea could be implemented.



                  • #10
                    Originally posted by NoSuchPerson View Post
                    I'd be thrilled if we could all just agree that working students would be covered by basic labor standards governing work hours, protection from hazards, and freedom from hostile work environments.

                    But I am definitely a pessimist - as long as there are young people eager to accept working student positions in even the very worst of programs, there is no motivation for anything to change.
                    Given that by federal and most state laws they are employees and must be paid an hourly wage (plus OT), the system for sure needs to change. You cannot barter labor for rides etc. I keep waiting for someone to file a lawsuit about this (not that I want one but as an employment lawyer I'm surprised we haven't seen tons of them). There is zero chance a barn/farm would win. They's owe back wages and taxes for up to 6 years depending on the state.... Working students fall under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) as employees, people just don't know their rights.


                    • #11
                      We can’t even get any kind of universal trainer accredation started much less supervise how they run their business.

                      Do think many upper tier barns have already shifted to paid, 18 or over workers and operate under state guidelines rather then take minors in and barter labor for saddle time. Think that works better with the SS guidelines as well. There are entry level paid positions for those wanting to get into it, it’s called a groom.
                      When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                      The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                      • #12
                        Basically barns need to start acting like an actual business.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by BITSA View Post

                          Working students fall under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) as employees, people just don't know their rights.
                          Maybe better education for young people wanting to enter the industry would help provide the impetus for change? The more well-informed someone is, the harder it is to take advantage of them.

                          I think it'd definitely have to be change from the bottom up (ie: by the WS/employees themselves). I don't see many trainers or business being motivated to reduce their WS's working hours or remunerate them fairly. Maybe it's time for a revolution


                          • #14
                            Working Students used to be akin to apprentices. They worked but also learned under a "master trainer" who taught them not only riding but general horsemanship as well as some business skills. Now the term appears to apply to anyone who works off board or lessons. Those people are not students, they are people exchanging services.
                            F O.B
                            Resident racing historian ~~~ Re-riders Clique
                            Founder of the Mighty Thoroughbred Clique


                            • #15
                              I was a H/J working student... it was certainly successful in weeding me out of the professional show barn world!

                              I'm torn on the subject, though. I've been addicted to the Major League Eventing podcast as of lately, and a recurring theme with some of the riders I admire most is a deep commitment to education in the sport. The average person cannot a) fund enough lessons/training to acquire enough riding education to reach the top levels and b) garner enough management information from lessons alone to successfully run their own business. We complain about lack of credentials for professionals now, could you imagine how bad it would be if the only options to gain experience were paid lessons and paid labor?

                              With that said, our industry has abused the concept of working students for entirely too long. There are trainers out there who work to actively provide wonderful learning and mentorship experiences for their working students. Then there are other trainers who believe they are gifting you a great opportunity to breathe their air and complete manual slave labor in their presence, with no plan to help you better yourself. In the worst of situations, conditions are physically and emotionally abusive.

                              Right now, the direction formal education is heading is all about internships and work experience. Maybe high schools and colleges might be able to provide a level of oversight for working student positions in the future? Not that high schools and colleges are swimming in extra money or resources. But they might be able to act as the proposed counselor in some capacity. Of course, that doesn't help the young adult aspiring pro who isn't enrolled in an educational program...
                              Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by roseymare View Post
                                The problem as a whole is the mentality t across all industry that one has to "pay your dues" in order to be successful. One of the worst violators is the medical field.
                                I was just thinking that 80 hours a week is the max for residents.

                                Since some working students are getting paid a small salary (often also a housing benefit), there is no real protection outside of the breaks that we know most people don't ever really get regardless of profession ("working lunch," anyone? Every week for me!). I have been working 14 hour days in my salary job and there is no US Dept of Labor protection for me. At least when you are hourly you get OT.

                                I don't think this is just a working student problem. I do think there are some careers and positions that do not afford work/life balance and it's a choice to partake in those lines of business. Some offer more lucrative salaries as a tradeoff, or other perks like travel incentives. Others are driven by the pursuer's passion. Most trainers don't have a 9-5 - they work from early morning to evening. If we are preparing students for this line of work then unfortunately the training needs to set the realistic expectation. There is nothing worse than getting a recent grad employee in who thinks they can leave at 5 every day when the work isn't done. Not as a salary person, you can't! The world isn't setting our youth up for reality. Perhaps there are some who can change things for the future, but with the horse industry in a decline and costs on the rise, I'm not sure what the path forward will look like. I don't see 9-5 in our future when shows start at 8 AM and run past 7 on some nights, for example.

                                My trainer is coming off Brandywine, Junior hunter finals, and now has 2 weeks of rated shows. That's a month straight of work! That's the reality of being a trainer with successful clients... Internships and work/study programs are designed to reflect the reality of the working situation. Unless (the ever shrinking base of) clients want to pay more for even more staff and help, I don't see this changing.

                                I do think USEF should lead the charge on an App aimed at youth and younger equestrians. I think it would be interesting data to collect about hours worked (they could potentially login and out) and also rate their experiences.


                                • #17
                                  There is a vast difference between internships/working student positions. Some are real learning experiences that take much time and effort and then there are those which are simply slave labor masquerading as an internship/working student position.


                                  • #18
                                    atl_hunter have you ever been a working student and wanted to go pro?


                                    • #19
                                      You guys realize that most trainers don't make minimum wage for the hours they put in?
                                      I have been a working student, and I have had working students.
                                      They need to know what they are getting into, no sense giving them the world with rose colored glasses.

                                      Today's youth, seem to miss the concept of sweat equity.
                                      "The Friesian syndrome... a mix between Black Beauty disease and DQ Butterfly farting ailment." Alibi_18


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Vindicated View Post
                                        You guys realize that most trainers don't make minimum wage for the hours they put in?
                                        I have been a working student, and I have had working students.
                                        They need to know what they are getting into, no sense giving them the world with rose colored glasses.

                                        Today's youth, seem to miss the concept of sweat equity.
                                        People on salary don’t make minimum wage for the hours they put either. Nor does every other small business owner. What is your point?

                                        If I were to add up my salary, my extra pay and the cost of my health insurance, I wouldn’t hit minimum wage. Welcome to life. It’s only the horse industry that takes advantage.

                                        Theres sweat equity and then there’s the horse world.