Unpaid internships: Should be be outraged or should they suck it up?

Unpaid internships foment backlash:

Jobs few, grads flock to unpaid internships:

Bolding mine.

Now for my humble opinions and concerns:

  1. I can’t see how this isn’t exploitation. Yes, people sign up voluntarily, but presumably they sign up to learn skills they wouldn’t be able to learn anywhere else. I don’t see how doing administrative and janitorial work falls in this category.

  2. But if you’re still doing unpaid internships as a 40-year-old, you are doing something wrong. It’s great that he’s got the courage to sue, though.

  3. I don’t see how this doesn’t screw people who cannot afford to work for free. It must suck to be the person who has dreams but isn’t blessed with parents willing/able to fund glorified volunteer work in addition to college tuition. If there’s an expectation that you’ve got to put in a few years of 60 hr/week unpaid grunt work to even get your foot in the door, then why should anyone who isn’t rich even bother? The playing field is going to be unfairly stacked against them.

  4. If the biggest selling point of unpaid internships is that they provide valuable contacts and skills, what’s stopping other industries from using unpaid interns? Want to learn all about engineering? Hey, you can become an unpaid intern and see first-hand how it all works. If you don’t like making copies or picking up sandwiches or answering the phones for us, no recommendation for you! There is nothing inherent about non-creative professions that makes them immune to this kind of exploitation.

  5. The “Do What You Love” philosophy, in addition to the crappy economy, is why unpaid internships have been allowed to thrive. People are so desperate to live their dreams that they are willing to subject themselves to all kinds of abuse. But there are opportunity costs to working for nebulous intangibles. Perhaps these young people could be starting their own businesses or finding respectable, rewarding employment somewhere out of their “dreams”. Perhaps if companies were paying for the services interns are now providing for free, they could be more selective about who they use to do that work, so that merit rather than sheer desperation/endurance could be rewarded.

I’m curious what Dopers think.

I work in a “love what you do” industry where unpaid and low-pay internships are very common, and where many of the people doing them are older career-changers. In my particular industry, these internships do reliably lead to full time jobs. Indeed, many companies use internships as their main hiring mechanism for entry level positions, and there are copious “high prestige” internships that will make you very marketable. Most of the internships do, to their credit, have people doing substantial work.

But it’s still a barrier to entry for many people from more modest means, which is almost criminally absurd in a field that is all about social justice. I’ve had many friends spend chunks of time in very difficult economic situations because they felt that was their only way to eventually secure a position, and I’ve seen others give up and move back home or change fields. To add insult to injury, many internships require that you to prove that you have heath coverage, which is pretty nutty for someone who isn’t getting paid.

I do think it’s a dark spot on an industry and goes against it’s values. And the conspiracy theorist in me secretly believes it’s a new gate for keeping upper class jobs upper class now that any old joe can get a degree.

Anyway, the ones that make me really sad are the resumes I see who have a half-dozen prestigious internships under their belt. I know the allure of progressively more and more prestigious organizations is hard to turn down, but eventually it looks like you’ve been all over town and nobody will hire you.

I can see how it can easily turn into something that’s self-perpetuating. Like college hazing. “Everyone who applies for a job here has to do at least a year of unpaid internship because, by golly, that’s what we all had to do to get here! And I’ll be damned if I let these self-entitled punks rise to the top without paying their dues!”

I know if my boss starting hiring high school graduates to fill positions in my agency comparable to mine, I would feel like this. For lots of jobs a college degree is just as much an artificial barrier to entry as an unpaid internship.

A friend of mine did an unpaid internship for 6 months that was, frankly, exploitative. It did not lead to a job, he didn’t earn any school credit for it, and he spent untold hours slaving away that he could’ve been spending submitting resumes and interviewing for real jobs.

I think interning CAN be a valuable experience when properly regulated and done with the expectation that it should, first and foremost, benefit the *intern *-- not the company or employer who is getting some poor shmuck to boss around without having to pay for it.

I’ve had interns the past three years, and have signed up one for this summer. But we sure as hell pay them. And I make sure they are learning something, not doing the engineering equivalent of making copies. And from the internships on the resumes I’ve seen, other companies are doing similar stuff.

It is pure exploitation. During school I can maybe see it, assuming the student gets credit towards graduation. After graduation forget it. Short term try out job, fine. But pay. And teach something useful. The companies that cry poverty about this seem to have big budgets and pay the top guys plenty. They can afford minimum wage, at least. A movie claiming they can’t afford an intern salary is total crap. I bet they throw out food from Craft Services worth more than his pay every day.

And age 40? Forget it. I saw an ad posing as a column in the Merc yesterday quoting at length some woman extolling the virtues of internships at age 40. i don’t know for sure, but her company name made me think her company placed interns. And I bet she gets paid.

Just goes to show that without competition lots of companies will exploit people at the first opportunity.

Some day some guy on his third internship is going to go postal and everyone will be shocked and maybe they’ll start enforcing the laws. Until then, who knows.

Unpaid internships at most should last about 3 months, and preferably around 6 weeks.

Our company does most of its entry level hiring through paid internships that last about 3 months. We pay our internees about the same rate that a new hire would make. Most of our internees are one to two years from graduating. If the internee receives good reviews throughout their internship, then they normally get an offer for full time employment starting when they graduate. The internship also gives the candidates an opportunity to check us out as well. We may not be a good fit as a company for them.

Not that I’m supporting soulless capitalism or anything, but why would any of these companies pay someone to do a job that many people are willing to do for free?

I never would have been able to do an internship if it wasn’t paid. I put myself through college and was skint at the end.

I vote that interns should be paid. I’ve been in the work force many years now and I have seen companies abuse interns by not actually training them, by giving them the dirty work without explanation of why the task must be done or helping them to do it better. Internships should be about guidance, not free labor. I count myself lucky that I had a good, educational, paid internship.

Sometimes I think the assumption is that your husband is supposed to be covering you. There are certain industries that are commonly enough “second incomes”–generally industries that require a college degree, even an advanced one, but do not pay as much as others. Insofar as we tend to marry within our social class, that means many of the people in these professions will have a much higher earning spouse. That can set certain “norms” that just wouldn’t be possible if the salary represented even 50% of the household income for all workers.

I have always though that unpaid internships were a waste of time, as were the majority of the interns.

But if you knowingly make the deal, you gotta stand by it. Or quit.

Hmmm. Interesting idea. I’m not sure it works for my particular field, which is not very marriage-friendly and attracts lots of extremely independent ladies, but it could be true elsewhere.

If you look at the listings for a job in virtually any field, the overwhelming majority of the listings require both a degree and experience in field. If you can’t get hired, you can’t get any experience…

Presumably, an unpaid internship gives you that experience so you can get a job at all. In some fields, that’s what you have to do.

What did people do before their were unpaid internships?

I had oodles of experience when I started working at my agency at the entry level. But I didn’t acquire that experience through unpaid internships. Modest research stipends and low-paid post-docs, yes. But I’ve never been expected to work for free.

The only reason we don’t consider unpaid internships an outrage is that we’re used to them. Interns are exploited and businesses use them so they won’t have to hire paid employees.

Are the interns working for a business or a charity?
If it’s a business they should be paid to do work.

From reading lots of articles about this in the Time, it seems to me that Daddy or Mommy pays. A lot of these jobs are for the very young and force them to work crazy hours, not so conducive to being married.

Now the ones for 40-year-olds are a different story. Which leads me to wonder - can someone on unemployment get an unpaid internship and keep unemployment? I’ve never seen this addressed.

We have slots specially allocated for new college grads. In fact it is easier to hire a new grad than an experienced person. However we expect to be around for a while, and want to build a pool of younger employees with up to date knowledge. During the bad times when we weren’t hiring it got very depressing, with the same old faces doing the same old things. New blood is very energizing.

I realize that lots of people want to hire those with the exact knowledge they want - so they can toss them and hire a new set when their needs change.

If there were no minimum wage laws everyone without special skills would be in this category. We got told that we don’t need them because the market will set value - but the market - thanks to not enough jobs - is setting a value of 0 on these jobs.

There are two groups of people unpaid internships exploit. First is, of course, the interns . . .

. . . and secondly, the unemployed in that industry. For every unpaid intern is one unemployed guy who could have had that job. That’s why even if the intern is perfectly happy, it’s still wrong. I’m all for ending them, but I doubt it’s going to happen any time soon; it’s a fantastic deal for the company.

Yes, unpaid internships suck, and yes, they discriminate against people from working-class background. I’d prefer if they were abolished, or at least if enterprises which offer them were subject to some more social opprobrium.