Internships open doors. They provide connections within companies that would otherwise be much harder to obtain, as well as job experience that can eventually lead to a full-time position. Big cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are ideal places to get an internship at because of their abundance of companies and organizations. The cost of living, however, can become very burdensome and prevent many from pursuing the summer job of their dreams, especially if internships are unpaid and their parents are unable to help financially.
Unpaid internships have recently become a controversial topic. Last year, a judge in Manhattan ruled in favor of unpaid interns who sued Fox Pictures for violating minimum wage laws, while Condé Nast has decided to cancel its 2014 internship program because of lawsuits against its lack of compensation.
While it is understandable that not all internship programs can pay students well for their work, and that many companies focus more on providing the experience and connections available rather than the wage, minimum pay should be established in accordance with the amount of hours students must work.
Some internship programs abuse student labor because it is cheap, and do not assist student workers even with basic expenses, such as housing and food. Unpaid internships should only be part time, limiting the amount of hours students can work for free, so they can either get another paid job or work for a shorter period of time.
The goal of every internship program should be to immerse students in the industry and connect them with workers who could guide them through career options. Providing this without pay, however, does not suffice because it hampers many students’ ability to participate in such programs.
Thus, these programs would be either catering mostly to students who have the economic advantages of supporting themselves the entire summer without pay, or would put some students through harsh financial difficulties that would not be worth the program’s offers.
Another problem with unpaid internship programs is that it blurs the line for companies to determine what’s acceptable as unpaid work and what isn’t. Because students eagerly search for internships, companies end up taking advantage of the high demand without seriously considering the possibility of student labor exploitation. Unpaid internships are similar to volunteer work, but with the crucial difference that a corporation making profit from unpaid student workers is taking advantage of them.
A valuable internship experience shouldn’t be one in which students struggle to survive through the summer, but one in which they are able to participate in everything the program has to offer without hurting themselves financially in the long run.