Businesses need to compensate interns with more than experience.
As reported in the New York Times and other papers across the country at the beginning of the month, several states are currently investigating whether unpaid internships violate minimum-wage laws.
With some minor reservations, the first inclination for many students who have found themselves giving organizations and companies countless hours of free labor in the name of “learning experience,” is to sigh and say, “It’s about time.”
While it is true that, in most fields, internships provide invaluable field experiences and networking opportunities, students who put in anywhere between 15 and 40 hours a week at these positions, regardless of how much they love the work, really should be getting something a little more concrete and worthwhile than the business cards of professionals who may or may not remember them when they graduate in a few years.
That’s the thing about getting to network and gain field experience: The success of your networking as a student depends heavily on whether other people will get back to you and remember you. And field experience has an expiration date, even if it looks nice on a résumé.
But a paycheck or even a stipend could be a small but earnest way to ensure the work students pour into internships benefit them in some tangible way. If some companies can offer internships at which students make the same salary as an entry-level employee, why can’t others buck up and pay their student-interns minimum wage?
With the investigation into the legality of unpaid internships, however, comes a legitimate worry: With the current recession and the job market on life support, will companies do away with internships if they’re ordered to pay interns? Then where will students get the experience?
If one bit of advice could be offered to companies and organizations offering internships, it would be to level the playing field. Either decide to pay across the board, or decide to award credits across the board, but don’t have the next generation of employees – ostensibly, the future of the business – work for nothing.