Fair internships: the business case

“Never Hire Interns Without Paying Them” is a good title for an article about internships. Richard Bottner, CEO of Intern Bridge, makes the business case for hiring paid interns. In short:

But how can [employers] hire the best and brightest when having unpaid internship programs cuts them off from perhaps 40% of the potential applicant pool?

There’s another argument, not heard often enough: liabilities.

Unpaid internships can leave employers open to increased liability by financially binding them to students’ universities if liabilities arise, such as workers compensation obligations.

That is: if you do something illegal, you may end up in court. Employers bet on the discretion (powerlessness) of the interns, but what if they break a leg in the stairs and have to expain what they were doing at the workplace?

Richard has no illusions as to why companies offer unfair internships:

Companies that host unpaid internships without any real oversight typically do so for the wrong reason–to exploit cheap labor.

This is the first time that I see any statistic about the number or the proportion of unfair internships. It appears to be based on a nationwide (US) survey of 42,000 college students.

At present, one of every five internships in the U.S. has an illegal compensation structure. (…) Education, entertainment, journalism, nonprofits and law are among the most notorious offenders.

So 20% of internships would have an illegal compensation structure – that’s an illegal practice hidden in plain sight. You never heard of it? Of course: the media and the lawyers are the worst offenders. Not to mention the proportion of lawmakers who hire interns.

There’s a noteworthy quote in the comments section of the article:

“There are certainly industries that seem to be almost collusive in their agreement to not pay their interns” – Albert C. Cabral, President, National Society for Experiential Education Board of Directors

“Collusion” is not a term that one wants associated with their industry.


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