It is almost impossible to escape. In finding an internship, I often come across applications with a long list of responsibilities only to find the position of saying “unpaid” at the very bottom of the page as if they were trying to hide it. How do we still allow this to happen?
As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “experience doesn’t pay the bills.” Emphasizing that not all students can afford to work for free. Create more of a broader discussion based on the ethics, fairness and failure of unpaid internships.
Amanda Powers Snowden, director of communications and operations at DePaul Career Center, said in an email, DePaul’s Handshake report in 2020-2021, 73% of internship offers were paid, while 27% were unpaid. .
“Nationally, research reports that 43% of internships done by for-profit companies are unpaid,” Snowden continued.
Although the number of unpaid internships is declining, for-profit companies continue to promote them. Free labor is common and unpaid internships are one facet of this problem.
As a student, you constantly hear about the importance of having experience beyond academics. Internships are all about gaining practical experience to prepare you for the future.
Mya Whitton, a neuroscience major at DePaul, accepted unpaid STEM-related internships.
“While the work is plentiful, I enjoyed taking on tasks that made me feel like a big part of the organizations I worked for,” Whitton said in an email. “Although I think some of the superfluous tasks I have done should have been paid, I do not regret taking these internships as it allowed me to stand up in interviews with health care and investigators tend to point out [to] my last internship.
With any internship, there are advantages to becoming familiar with the field of your choice. From practicing the skills you need to learn from professionals to networking, it can all help you move in the right direction. However, as someone who is just starting their career path, there is this desire to feel like you and your work are respected and appreciated.
For companies with high expectations of unpaid interns, this can do more harm than good. Going through the unpaid internship process can lead to low self-esteem and self-confidence issues due to the feeling that your work is not appreciated enough to be financially rewarded.
From my experience, although I developed a base of professional skills and knowledge, I felt that my hard work and talent as a student was not appreciated enough to be financially rewarded. I worked part-time, taught a full-time course load, stayed involved on campus, and spent 20 hours a week as an unpaid intern.
The further I got into this, the more I began to realize just how unethical and unfair unpaid internships really are. The work I have done and the time I have spent have been put to good use.
“My problem with unpaid internships is the lack of recognition for the unpaid work you do as a student, and if you have another job, the internship work ultimately builds on,” Whitton said. “I think [employers] should care about the financial stability and well-being of the person as much as they care about the work they produce.
Employers are able to hide and profit from their interns by guaranteeing them a “real world” experience without any compensation for their work. To remain ethical, the employer must align workload expectations according to whether the internship position is paid or not.
As a for-profit business, if there is space, time, and money for an intern, you should pay them somehow.
While you can argue that unpaid interns are paid by experience and referrals, there is no security or financial backing.
“There are many multi-million dollar companies that can pay their workers; there’s no excuse, ”Whitton said. “Given the ongoing pandemic, not paying your interns is quite bizarre and hurtful. “
Michael Elias, director of the College of Communication’s internship program at DePaul, believes unpaid internships get nowhere.
“I don’t see unpaid internships going away in the immediate future, but I think the balance is shifting towards more paid internships than not,” he said in an email.
Going forward, companies should consider avoiding unpaid internships at best to show that they are both fair and ethical. In all situations, interns should be treated fairly and deserve to be paid for what they are worth.