Unpaid internships shouldn’t exist

Unpaid internships shouldn't exist

Santiago Gaughan/The Cougar

Unpaid internships are all too familiar to most college students. It’s a way for students to gain experience and learn about the field of work they want to go into, but it also is a way for companies to exploit students. 

Internships originate from apprenticeships which date back to the 1000s. Apprentices would typically live with their craftsman boss and work for free. The reward was that they would be admitted to the guild as a professional. 

The phenomenon of unpaid internships is similar but with much less reward. Back in the day, it was expected that apprentices would graduate to become professional craftsmen who could earn wages. Nowadays, an unpaid intern could intern with a company for a whole year, and leave the company with nothing but a recommendation letter. 

In the early 1900s, the business world started using internships, having young people be their messengers or copiers. Then the 1960s came and formal internships started to become what they are today. 

Oftentimes, companies would use internships to recruit people. People would start off as interns and likely be hired if all went well. As internships became more popular, students just needed to fill up their resume with work experience. 

Companies now see all these eager students and realize that if they provide students with an internship for their resume, they can get free labor. 

There used to be a strict criteria for what an internship was. Internships had to be educational, beneficial for the intern, not displacing employees, the employer doesn’t get advantage from the intern, and that the intern isn’t entitled to a job or wages. 

Now, the guidelines are much looser with no single guideline as determinative, and many employers do gain advantage from having an intern work for free. In fact, many employers hire interns to pick up the slack of employees going on vacation during the summer. That doesn’t sound like the employer’s motivations are in the interest of the intern. 

Unpaid internships are also highly unregulated, often allowing companies to have unpaid interns illegally. There have been many instances where interns successfully sued different companies for exploitation, such as NBC, Lions Gate and Viacom. 

So unpaid internships are highly dicey as to their legality or not. They are also not realistic for many people. An unpaid internship can take up the time of a full time job, making it difficult for poorer students who may need additional sources of income. It’s hard to balance a full time internship, job and school. 

However, internships are mostly expected on resumes now. While many internships are paid, they pay very little, and depending on what industry you want to work in, you may not have a choice if your internships are paid or not. 

At the end of the day, an intern is doing work for a company and they deserve to be paid for their labor. If the regulation of internships doesn’t get better, it should be illegal for interns to go unpaid. 

Anna Baker is an English senior who can be reached at [email protected]

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