First of all, if you want an intern, I strongly suggest paying for one. The laws are pretty strict in requiring pay for interns at for-profit companies. You can legally do it, but it will be easier and better for all concerned if you do pay--at least minimum wage.

But, that said, I wish the Department of Labor would loosen their rules to allow for more unpaid internships. And it's not just that I want young people to suffer the way we suffered back in my day. (I did an internship for a state legislature and received a $300 stipend for the 45-day session, but the senator I worked for gave me a $100 bonus out of his own pocket.)

No, I'm no fan of suffering for suffering sake, but I am a fan of learning. This is why I like unpaid internships.

More available internships mean more possibilities

Yes, the best students will likely get the paid internships, but even mediocre students will benefit from any sort of internship. There are plenty of small companies that don't have the funds to pay an intern but would provide a great learning experience for a college student.

Regardless of what your professors say, you're at school to get a job.

I once got into an argument with a professor friend. She insisted her job was to expand young minds. I insisted it was to prepare people for the workforce. She's right, historically. Back in the day when only the upper classes received advanced formal education, no one was concerned about a job because the family business and connections would provide.

Today, we don't go to college (or send our children to college) at great expense in order to simply expand our minds. We do so so that we can get jobs and be productive members of society.

An internship can prepare you in ways your humanities course never could. 

We allow you to take out a loan to learn philosophy or dance, but not to learn how to function in an office.

I got a message from a reader asking for help in landing her first job out of college. She had a double major in German and Italian and had had zero internships. Not one of you will be surprised that finding a professional job was proving difficult.

Should she have chased down an internship? Absolutely. Should the school have encouraged or even required it? Yes. People complain that unpaid internships mean only the rich can take internships. Maybe. But with that logic, only the rich can go to school. We know that's not true. Why is it okay to take out $100k in loans for a degree and not to take one semester to do an unpaid internship? 

Will people take advantage of the students?

Sure. Some will. But most won't. Interns don't come to work capable of working independently (almost always!), so it requires close supervision. For companies that need to fill their pipeline, interns fill a real need. For other companies, it's literally an act of service.

Arran Stewart, Co-Owner of blockchain powered recruitment platform, Job.com says this about unpaid internships:

Unpaid internships offer as much good as they do bad.  They are a fantastic way for young inexperienced workers to gain a foot in the door working with various businesses to improve their knowledge and experience.  However, they are also a great opportunity for businesses to take advantage of free labor, sometimes with no intention of a job at the end of it.  Sadly, we have seen companies simply invent unpaid internships, purely for the benefit of having the use of young educated workers, at no cost.  Internships should be given some level of kitemark trust if they wish to be taken as official and offer the worker some form of a  true long-term opportunity. 

While a job at the end of an internship sounds great, I don't think it's required. We want students to get experience, companies that can offer internships may not be able to offer jobs at the end. That's okay, as long as everyone is clear upfront. Regardless, the student comes out better for having the experience.

Published on: Aug 8, 2018