The Debate of Unpaid Interns

I read this article earlier in the week. I find it interesting that right at the time that I was interning these unpaid intern debates began.

Internships are weird to me, but I’ve spent the past year accepting them as a fact and sometimes even a privilege. I paid full tuition to be a student teacher for a semester. That means I paid money to New Paltz so I could wake up at 5:30am get to school, teacher 120 students, plan units and lessons and grade work. I would typically get home around 4:00 and prepare work for the next day.

I interned at foursquare… that was a sweet deal. I got paid to be there and it was a great learning experience. I had a short stint at Hot Bread Kitchen. That internship was unpaid, but they were always thankful and appreciative of any work I did. World Wide Workshop paid for my transportation and it was a good learning experience as well.

I would never want to sue any of the companies or school I interned with. I thank these people for the privilege of getting to learn from them and build my skills.

But with that said, I’m not crazy about unpaid internships. Legally you can only offer an upaid internship if you promise to give compensation in the form of an education or mentorship. (See this really good video here for a clear run-down and what is ok and not ok in internships.) If someone does work for you they should be compensated. If you can’t pay them then you don’t need the help enough. I like the idea of internships being required as a part of graduation for school, similar to what I did for student teaching. But I shouldn’t have had to pay full tutition that semester. You should be required to have an internship in college, but you should see a smaller tuition bill the semester that you have your internship. After you graduate college you should not be allowed to have an unpaid internship. Sure, you might be learning, but you still should be compensated because you are a skilled worker. If you can’t pay someone minimum wage then they shouldn’t give you their time.

I don’t know if lawsuits are the best way to address this issue. I wonder why these two interns put up with these internships if they now want to sue the company. Why not just quit the internship? But I do think that a lot of companies are using  “unpaid” interns to get free workers to do their mundane tasks, and that’s not ok.


3 thoughts on “The Debate of Unpaid Interns

  1. I don’t know.

    Having been through an unpaid internship that changed my life, I am biased.

    I think there are bigger things in life than money.. and especially so as a student where it really should be about learning and growing.

    That said, I know we are all wired differently.. so well..

    • I fully agree Rohan, an unpaid internship should be a step in life. But when some people graduate they are given an unpaid internship that gives them no mentorship or guidance… so that is essentially an entry level position and should be paid accordingly.

      An unpaid internship is supposed to be a learning experience that causes tremendous benefit to you and a small hinderance to the company- therefore your compensation is their willingness to guide and mentor you. But a lot of companies are just taking advantage of the fact that there are so many unemployed young people right now and they don’t have to pay their employees in they are an unpaid intern. And these kids deal with it even though they are providing skills worth compensation.

      I hope I didn’t come off as seeming like I don’t like unpaid internships… I do, and I think everyone that wants to go into a professional field should have one. And like I said, all of my internships were a positive experience, paid or unpaid (or paying for the internship like I did in student teaching.)

      But After graduation these kids deserve to get paid for the work and skills they have… which they do have and I think a lot of companies are making it seem like college graduates don’t have skills worth paying, and that isn’t true at all. They’ll find out the hard way when the economy picks up in a year or two.

  2. Pingback: My thoughts on Lean In asking for unpaid interns | J Wilson

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