Unpaid internships are just not worth it

August 6, 2012

If you think you need an unpaid internship to get a foot in the door and then a job, I’d like you to meet reality:

The [National Association of Colleges and Employers] released a study this week showing that 60% of 2012 graduates who worked a paid internship got at least one job offer, while just 37% of those in unpaid gigs got any offers. That’s slightly – only slightly – better than the offer rate for graduates who skipped internships entirely, at 36%.

It is no better than no internship at all. Being paid on the other hand is much better, 62% better. And that’s for all unpaid internships, not to mention unfair internships where you surely get no on-the-job training.


Internships: The Scandal of Britain’s Unpaid Army

November 15, 2011

The Guardian has two excellent articles on the scandal (their word) of unfair internships. Internships: the scandal of Britain’s unpaid army makes the point that internships are not an option.

With youth unemployment approaching the one million mark, getting to the first rung of the employment ladder has never been harder for Britain’s young people. As competition grows so too have the barriers, including the need to have experience of the workplace before securing a paid job.

Gone are the days when a week’s placement during the school holidays at your parent’s company could make your CV stand out. Now school leavers and even graduates are expected to have months of varied experiences to cut the mustard at interview. The problem, civil servants admit, has become endemic.

Even more interesting is Interns work – and should be paid, lawyers warn ministers:

Thousands of unpaid interns could be entitled to compensation after government legal advice emerged suggesting employers are breaking the law by not following national minimum wage rules.

It is no surprise that someone with legal background sees the travesty of unfair internships, but it is quite pleasant to see the government’s lawyers acknowledge it.

All this activity in the UK is cause for optimism. Much the way that rock and roll then rap became respectable as their fans grew older, it is possible that as more victims of unfair internships get in position of power (including writing for The Guardian), the more crackdown there will be on the practice (cue in The times they are a-changin‘).

Unpaid interns: working for free

July 29, 2011

We went from lukewarm to cold on internships-for-credits, but it looks like it has gotten worse out there. Not only are colleges playing along, advertising unfair internships and making up programs with credits for internships without pay, but now they have started managing the expectations of graduates and legitimize what is an illegal and unfair practice. From the Globe and Mail, this quote from a student at Sheridan College:

“That was something [professors] stressed really hard – that we would not get paid”

Wait, there’s more, from another student:

“Humber is holding my diploma up in the air and saying we’re not giving it to you till you do this.”

At least, one law professor from York sees through it:

“My sense is that many employers believe simply calling someone an ‘intern’ relieves them of all employment obligations”.

Exactly. Ask them a simply question: why do you call it an “internship”?


Time: Working for Free

April 1, 2010

Time magazine has an article about unfair internships with a lead about people who take them many years after they graduated. As one of the people quoted in the article said, the rules are the same regardless of age, so this blog has never paid closer attention to this phenomenon.

The article has an interesting source to measure the increase in unfair internships:

But in the Great Recession, with employment rate hovering near 10%, job-search sites like CareerBuilder and Monster.com are reporting increases in the number of postings for internships.

I had a look on Monster.com and there are about 1,000 internships available at the moment, many of which appear like normal jobs at for-profits companies. Someone is playing with fire:

Companies are often eager for the extra set of hands. Michael Schmidt, an employment attorney in New York City, has seen an uptick in recent months in private employers calling him to find out if they can bring in unpaid interns as a way to cut costs. His answer: volunteering at for-profit companies is, legally, a no-no.

At least, these companies are checking whether it’s too good to be true. Yes, it is. Some nevertheless go for the deal, despite the illegality, the unfairness, the downsides for themselves and the social damage.

Of course, there’s little incentive for employers or interns to blow the whistle, says Robert Trumble, a management professor and the director of the Virginia Labor Studies Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. Workers want experience and the connections that come along with it. (…) The perceived value of that kind of experience helps explain why there’s little organized resistance to unpaid internships in the U.S.

And what will the interns do on their own anyway? Actually, there are things that they can do. The laws need to be enforced.

Interns angry at being ‘exploited’

February 22, 2010

Excellent piece on BBC news on the situation of unfair internships in the UK, with a nice mention of Interns Anonymous. They have some surprising statistics such as 90% of students work for free and 60% say the experience is not beneficial, according to a survey from the University of Westminster that we couldn’t find…

Westminster, Privilege and Unfair internships

February 18, 2010

The New Statesman has a story about unpaid internships in the British Parliament. And there are a lot of them.

Sonnex was one of the estimated 450 revolving interns working in parliament. Together, they prop up our democracy by providing as many as 18,000 hours of free labour a week, saving MPs an estimated £5m a year in labour costs.

Their angle is the unfair advantage given to those who can work for free, which is probably of primary importance when it comes to access to political power. It is a situation that could be about to change.

In October, the Speaker, John Bercow, acknowledged that if interns were doing regular work and regular hours, then minimum-wage legislation should apply. In its investigation into MPs’ expenses, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority supported the Speaker’s statement, reiterating that interns should be paid the minimum wage.

That could spell trouble for the MPs. I wouldn’t mind having them change their way to do the right thing, rather than giving a bad example.

Fair internships: the business case

October 20, 2009

“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.