Month: August 2014

Modern Wage Slavery: Unpaid Internships

Unpaid internship is sadly an accepted form of employment in the US. Younger generations are paying a lot more for career preparation than ever before. “U.S. companies have been cutting money for training programs for decades, expecting schools and workers to pick up the slack. College students have to pay for school, training, and internships. What do employers do? They complain about talent shortage.


Here are some empty promises from unpaid internships:

  • “You get college credits”: Yes, but interns may or may not get the ‘education’ or ‘experience’ that’s worth the price of those credits. They might as well take another elective course with greater rewards. Students are actually paying for unpaid internships_think about the costs of transportation, insurance, and lost wage.
  • “This internship may lead to a job”: That’s not an official job offer. And it is illegal for a company to use internship as a trial period. Why would they pay their interns in the future to do exactly the same thing when they can get away with hiring a new, unpaid intern? Even if an intern does land a job, s/he will probably soon discover the company’s lack of respect for employees in other areas or other unethical ways of cutting operating costs.
  • “Use it to build your resume”: Have you seen the increasing number of entry-level job postings that require ‘3-5 years of experience’? More and more companies are turning entry-level jobs into internships and advertising their professional jobs as entry-level positions. In fact, not every company and hiring manager will value an unpaid internship experience and the new graduate’s first salary offer may be significantly lower than the average because that’s not a real job’.
  • “It’s a great experience”: It really depends. Some companies offer structured and thoughtful internships where interns can gain real experience, including training, final deliverables, and networking opportunities with industry professionals. Some of them just ask interns to do whatever tasks that no one wants to do, a.k.a any administrative, tedious or manual tasks that require little intellectual power (It’s a different story when they’re paid to do those tasks. That’s called ‘part of the job’. ).

Here are three reasons we should fight against unpaid internships:

  • Unethical: Why would you work for free for 3 to 6 months for someone who’s making money out of you, possibly someone who you’ve never met and may never meet during the entire employment? And 99% of the time you won’t know their profits and where they spend the money. It doesn’t make sense. It is just wrong.
  • Unsustainable: With tuition hikes happening almost every year, students are struggling to keep both their brains and wallets full. Parents are picking up the tab so their children can get the experience they need for their career. If the student is not getting enough financial support for education and college expenses, s/he is very likely to get money via other means (a part-time job or loan) in order to stay self-sufficient during an unpaid internship. Higher education is the most viable way for us to sustain the knowledge economy. The last thing we need is to make it harder for students to get the education they need to grow our economy.
  • Unproductive: Even though many unpaid interns still work very hard to earn their stripes, an exploitative program like unpaid internship may not generate as much savings as expected for the employers. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. The hidden costs of morale, reputation, potential lawsuits, health issues will incur at the employer or the society’s expense.

Join the fight to end unpaid internships by supporting the Fair Pay Campaign!


The One Thing That Helps Your Business Last

Integrity. Innovation. Excellence. Respect. Diversity. Teamwork. Customers.

Wait…what other buzzwords did I miss?

Of course you can try those espoused values that everyone else uses and wait to see if they work for you. Or, you can be humble.

Humbleness is truly an underrated and misunderstood quality. Being humble doesn’t mean you’re selling yourself short. Doesn’t mean you’ll appear less attractive than your competitors. Humbleness allows you and your management to be agile, empathetic, and progressive. And you’ll be ready to lead your team for years to come.

It is not easy for Westerners to embrace the idea of humbleness when confidence tends to be the most sought-after trait that signifies success (or potential and even illusion of success). In fact, you can be humble and confident at the same time. Be humble about your organization’s current strategy and confident in your ability to serve your customers in an ever-changing market.

Did you know Blockbuster will go bust? Do you remember when Walkman was the coolest thing ever? Your business could be one of the sad examples in business articles or books. When the business is going well, most senior management are uber-confident in their current practices. Cashing in every day…what could possibly go wrong? They think they know it, they got it, and they own it. Think again.


Don’t be sad later. Be humble now.

  1. Listen to what your employees have to say. And I mean the ones who actually do the work such as interacting with your customers or supporting the services/products.
  2. Watch what customers are buying/using/asking for.
  3. Encourage your employees to pursue any credited or professional training, license or degree either you can afford to help them pay for it or not (there are tons of free industry training and webinars). I’m serious about ‘any’. It is ridiculous when a company has a specific rule for their tuition reimbursement program. Market changes so do in-demand skills. Can one possibly know all the in-demand skills in the next five years? We wouldn’t struggle with talent shortage if every company supported continuous learning and built that mindset into their business model.
  4. Try your competitors’ service or product. You’ll never know how good/bad your service/product is until you try the exact same thing from the other guy. Go to their website. Click on their ads. Subscribe to their email list. Buy something. Might as well take a sales call and listen to their pitch. You may learn a thing or two (plus it doesn’t count as corporate espionage; you’re only getting what their customers get).
  5. Take action based on all the findings above. This is the most important step. You won’t benefit from any of the fancy surveys and training you paid for if you don’t do something about it.

Good luck!