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Let’s talk internships.

On April 3, The New York Times published are article entitled, The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not, which dove into the controversial subject of paying interns. As the article noted, some states have found it to be illegal for companies to take on interns without compensating them in some way. On the other hand, some argue that the experience internships provide don’t have a price tag. Either way, the economy has caused many companies to seek out more interns because of the decreased cost. With job opportunities scarce and many new graduates looking to get a foot in the door at a company in any way they can, it’s no wonder that so many are taking a hit financially just to take on an internship.

In my lifetime, I’ve had two internships. The first one was with my current employer, Solid Cactus. The second, which I am still currently involved in, is with The PR Dept LLC. In both cases, I’ve gained experience that I’ll be able to use for the rest of my  life – but I consider myself lucky.

I’ve heard horror stories from other students who have been given hefty workloads for no pay. I’ve heard about how they’ve had to wash dishes and fetch coffee and staple papers for hours on end. I’ve heard how they learned nothing and walked away feeling angry about the entire experience. These are the cases in which, I think, payment is absolutely necessary.

The purpose of an internship is to provide a student with skills he or she can use to obtain a future position within an industry. It’s also, in some cases, a way for a company to recruit new employees. However, when a company abuses an intern or subjects an intern to performing work that is completely useless or unrelated to the field, I feel that it’s wrong for the employer to sit back and expect for the labor to be free, especially if they’re not fulfilling the expectation of teaching the student how to perform work that’s worthwhile and related to a specific job or career path. In fact, I find it a bit disturbing how employers treat their interns. Granted, both of my internship experiences have been wonderful and incredibly enriching, but I have close friends who can’t wait to end their internships because they feel bored, mistreated, and like they’re not learning anything valuable.

As a college student who has to pay her own bills, I think that it’s definitely better for a student to get a paid internship from a financial standpoint. College is expensive and if the student is supporting him or herself, which I know many do, then a paid internship can be the difference between paying the rent and being put out. I think it’s important for employers to recognize that unpaid internships simply aren’t in the cards for many students because of financial reasons, especially since college does rack up a lot of debt. Moreover, I think companies should be more sensitive to the fact that students are strapped for cash. Some compensation, I feel, is necessary.

If a company won’t pay a stipend or an hourly wage, then I feel that the employer should have to pay for the college credits the student is taking in order to fulfill the graduation requirement of having an internship. In many cases, programs of study in a specific field will require internship hours. Why should the student have to pay for the experience? It seems unfair to me that a student would have to pay for the credits, not to mention, transportation to the internship.

From a business standpoint, I don’t feel that the current strategy of “something for nothing” is sustainable. Too many interns have been abused. Too few have been hired. Too many have been forced to perform the work of salaried employees without any compensation. If this is the future work force, why would you want to burn bridges with them? Why would you want them to get a negative opinion of the way you do business? Hell, from a PR standpoint, it looks pretty bad for you if you abuse your interns, who fill the roles of your brand ambassadors, workforce, and consumers in some cases. Would you really want to make your consumers feel like they’re not valuable? Your employees like they’re worthless? With this kind of attitude, one would guess that there would be less of a desire to perform work, not to mention, partake in your products or services.

The Verdict: Compensation of some kind should be offered, even if it’s in the form of credits paid for by the employer.

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2 Responses

  1. This is spot-on. While I do agree that internships can be very educational, all too often you see companies that are doing just what you described – exploiting students as a source of free labor. And all too often that labor is the kind that nobody else wants to do, and which doesn’t impart any useful skills.

    I find the colleges to be at fault as well – as you stated, many require internships as a condition of graduation. At this point, they’re ordering students, who are already handling classes and, in many cases, part-time jobs, to take on ANOTHER job for which they may not get paid. For the student, this becomes a matter of priorities; obviously school comes first, and the paying job is certainly vital to survival, so where does that leave the unpaid internship? Dead last, which helps neither the student nor, in many cases, the company providing the internship.

    The solution is simple – pay these kids what they’re worth. If they’re effectively working a part-time job, then they should be paid a part-timer’s wage. Which means that if the company is benefiting AT ALL for the intern’s presence and time, then payment is due.

  2. Great post, I couldn’t agree more. You hit the head on the nail with this post, and I’m happy to see this unfair practice is gaining more and more negative attention lately. The NY Times article provided several examples of students that just can’t afford it. Whether they’re contributing to their own tuition or paying their own living expenses, some students just can’t afford to work for free! Also, you reminded me of how badly I need to make some more blog posts! Thanks!

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