I’m very glad recent stories in the news are bringing the exploitative nature of unpaid internships to light. It’s no surprise that articles like “Unpaid Internships Exploit Young Workers” and “Unpaid Interships May be Illegal” are making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook among my peers starting out in PR and journalism.
It was only a few months ago when my Humber PR classmates and I were on the internship hunt. More often than not, internships were unpaid or compensated with negligible honourariums that wouldn’t even cover transportation costs. Many of my classmates and I felt outraged and frustrated by the abundance of unpaid internships and scarcity of internships that paid at least minimum wage. All of us are highly educated young professionals, with an undergraduate degree and a postgraduate education from a respected program. Cream of the crop – or so we were told. If this is the case, then why aren’t employers willing to pay a cent in exchange for our work?
With rising costs of living, unpaid internships are simply unacceptable. For a student or a recent graduate, an unpaid (or barely paid) internship means they are paying to work. Everyone has different financial means and a young professional should not be denied a valuable opportunity because they can’t afford it.
An internship with a salary shows that an organization values an intern’s time and work. This expectation is also a two-way street – by providing compensation, the employers have the right to hold an intern up to the standard of a paid employee.
That said, interns don’t expect lucrative pay from internships. More than anything, young professionals want valuable experiences to help start their careers. This doesn’t mean photocopying and general office duties – these tasks are the work of an administrative assistant, not an intern.
Interns are fully capable of bringing results and productivity to an organization when managed with the right expectations and delegated appropriate tasks. When the work of an intern helps achieve an organization’s bottom line, they should be compensated.
But where will change come from? It starts with challenging the status quo. More people need to be made aware of this situation that many young professionals face. Ultimately, change can only be enacted by the employer and the hiring organization but today, you can spread the word: that interns matter.
What’s your take on unpaid (vs. paid) internships?