Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, November 16, 2018

Quick Take: Are unpaid internships worth the work?

Interns should expect to be paid
By Madison Freeman

The pervasiveness of unpaid internships in today’s job market is unacceptable and unethical. While the concept alone is helpful for the large number of young people who struggle to acquire experience and secure a job, the reality of the unpaid internship frequently amounts to illegal unpaid labor. Recent lawsuits have brought public attention to the problem of unpaid internships, and I hope that in the future this will encourage more companies to follow labor laws and pay their interns.

The standard of unpaid internships for undergraduate students has become so pervasive in our culture that paid positions seem irregular. As a paid intern at a small organization, I am constantly taken aback when I am told how “lucky” I am to have a paid internship. While I am grateful to have found a job, I do not feel especially privileged to be given a small salary in exchange for my hard work, long commute and dedication. I believe that I should be paid for my work regardless of whether it is called an “internship.”

Although internships are intended to be learning opportunities, all too often these positions are filled with menial tasks. Having a young person, who is grateful to get any experience on their resume, replace an administrative assistant for free is clearly mistreatment and an abuse of power. This breach of labor laws is a way for companies to cut costs and get out of paying their workers, and is often excused by the eagerness of young students to take unpaid internships. Although many individuals entering the workforce look for any open position to gain a step upward and are willing to work for free or for low pay if necessary, I bet many companies offering internships can afford to pay them a small salary. This includes companies like Condé Nast and Fox Searchlight Studios, both of whom are worth hundreds of millions. The culture of unpaid internships is one that exploits the vulnerability of the young and inexperienced trying to get a foot in the door, and it must be changed.

Hiding unpaid labor under the guise of an internship is illegal, and companies need to reassess their internship programs for legality and fairness. Though individuals may feel very lucky to score an internship at a major organization in their field, they should not need to feel lucky to be paid for their work.

Madison Freeman is a freshman in the School of International Service.

Competition for jobs undermines the need to pay interns
By Rathna Muralidharan

In today’s society, new graduates and college students are constantly exploited by larger companies. With more emerging professionals in the job field than ever, the competition to get a job or an internship is cutthroat. Companies abuse this desire for employment by either offering small salaries or no pay at all. The truth is that these companies are able to abuse their power by the simple, yet irrefutable fact that the need for jobs and experiences trumps the right to just payment.

Starting in middle school, many parents and teachers drive into students’ brains that experience is everything in the “real world.” The push to be involved, attain a leadership position or gain exposure is almost maddening. We stress in high school and college to balance school with jobs and community involvement, not only to become a “well-rounded person” but also to have an impressive list of activities and titles on a resume. Every task completed is another step in the right direction towards a “successful” life. An education will only get you so far, but “work experience will make you fly” is what we are told.

It is because of this intense pressure to gain real life training that so many job applicants are willing to accept menial positions that require a great deal of work without compensation as interns. The belief that these jobs are just stepping stones toward greater careers, and that new employees are merely paying their dues like many successful people before them is justification for the companies’ abuse of their stations as employers. Companies do not feel the need to change their ways for workers demanding payment, because these demands are far outweighed by the overwhelming number of college and graduate students desperately seeking employment.

It is apparent to everyone that the system is unjust and that all employees deserve some compensation for their performance. But when having a non-paying job is considered better than no job at all, and when for every one worker there are numerous more waiting to take his place, the unfair system will only grow and solidify. For the cycle to break, the job market must go through a drastic change, which can be accomplished through the smallest steps, such as more people demanding compensation for the work they do. Until then, justice for interns will be undermined by the fierce competition for experience.

Rathna Muralidharan is a freshman in the School of International Service.

Companies will miss out by ending programs before paying interns
By Emma Williams

Unpaid internships are often essential to most young adults’ lives, but they shouldn’t have to be. As interns, we spend hours working hard and making connections for no pay, and are left with no time to actually make money at other jobs. Then, if we’re not offered paying jobs at the end of our internships, as is the case for a majority of interns, the months or even years spent developing a role at a company may be wasted. This unfair system should not be a necessity to become successful after college, and we need to stop letting the CEOs decide that we need to even “earn” minimum wage for such time-consuming work.

Unfortunately, the recent scandals at companies like Condé Nast and Fox Searchlight will likely only lead to the abolishment of internship programs as a whole, rather than a switch to paid internships. Although a couple of pages of ads in an issue of Vogue could fund the magazine’s entire internship program for a month, Condé Nast, the corporation that owns Vogue, GQ and The New Yorker, has decided to end their internship program. Clearly, huge companies like this are only worried about their bottom line, not the careers of thousands of talented young students with no other way to begin their professional lives.

There is only so much that can be taught in a classroom, and real world experience is essential to success in almost any field. If young people can’t afford to take full-time or even part-time unpaid internships, they will be forced to work below their skill levels at menial minimum wage jobs outside their fields just to make ends meet. These corporations need to realize that although paid internship programs may cost them slightly more at first, in the future they will be grateful they were able to find so many eager and talented young interns.

Emma Williams is a freshman in the School of Communication.


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