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.