I’m just going to come out and say it: unpaid internships are BS.
As a sophomore business student going to school in the heart of Silicon Valley, I’m feeling a bit of pressure to take on an internship during the summer before junior year of college. However, during this job search, I keep finding a plethora of unpaid internships in the area. This should not be the norm.
Companies are taking advantage of the young labor force with unpaid internships. I firmly believe that employers should compensate students for their time and contributions to a company. Everyone deserves to be financially compensated for their work, even if it is just minimum wage. It’s understandable that some non-profits and startups may be unable to pay their interns—however, having an internship at a for-profit employer means that you should be getting paid.
Photo courtesy of Lauren Mancke
Young people are already susceptible to debt. College is expensive enough as it is. Now students are expected to spend their time outside of school working for no pay? In all honesty, the only people who can really afford to work for free are those from privileged backgrounds. If an internship does not pay, it is not economical to take the position. This is unfortunate because often the students who may benefit most from the experience and networking of an internship cannot afford it.
This practice of unpaid internships is exclusionary to those who need it most. This is why minimum wage should be offered, so that those from lower-income families can have a chance to take positions as interns, which could benefit them later in their career and overall create a more just job market.
But an unpaid internship is still an internship, right? Not so fast. Although internships are supposed to be educational and hopefully lead to a paying job offer upon completion, this is not always the case. If a company is paying for an intern, they have an interest in the youth’s personal and professional development. If they’re not, well…
Photo courtesy of Tim Gouw
Even if you get a job offer from your unpaid internship, it can be hard trying to negotiate a livable salary, when your boss already knows that you’ll work for free.
The last thing to note is that unpaid internships can actually be illegal. According to the Department of Labor, there is a “test” to determine the legality of unpaid internships, with criteria that must be applied when determining if an internship should be paid. Because students are eager to gain experience for their resumes, some employers are illegally using such internships as free labor. This is unacceptable and needs to end.