Should Internships Be Paid?

“Entry level position, experience required.” It’s the age-old predicament that all of us will encounter one day regardless if we are just starting off in our careers or trying to make a career change. How does one get experience for an entry-level position, when it is an entry-level position and the applicant presumably wouldn’t have previous experience? One common answer is an by working an internship first. But not all internships are created equal.

A recent article on Aljazeera America discussed the often unspoken debate of if internships should be required to be paid. While pointing out that there are unpaid internships across all industries, the article drew attention to the fact that over half of nonprofit internships are unpaid compared to only 34% being unpaid in the for-profit sector.

There is no denying that internships are an excellent opportunity for an individual to gain job skills and get a foot in the door in a dog-eat-dog economy that is still trying to recover from the Great Depression. Is offering an unpaid internship unfair though by effectively eliminating those who cannot work for free and by taking advantage of those who can? Or if someone is capable and willing to work an unpaid internship, is that all that is needed to justify the interns unpaid work?

Aljazeera’s article pointed out that most of the work done by interns is very similar, if not identical, to that of paid workers. While some interns were grateful for the opportunity, other found themselves turned off by the experience altogether.

We want to know, do you think internships should be required to be paid? Would you work an unpaid internship? Have you worked an unpaid internship? If so, what was your experience like? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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2 Responses to Should Internships Be Paid?

  1. Sarah Siraj says:

    What a thought provoking topic… I have been on both sides of this issue before first as a job seeker and now as an Employment Coordinator. As a young job seeker fresh out of college I did consider an unpaid internship at the Department of Justice but actually was presented with a paid employment offer before I accepted it. In that case the prospect of earning an income trumped the prospect of gaining experience. Did I lose out on my career because of this missed opportunity? I will never know. Now I assist job seekers with disabilities to find meaningful employment in our community as an Employment Coordinator. I work closely with employers to encourage them to hire these individuals and sometimes the “carrot” at the end of the stick is to utilize internship opportunities to get the client’s foot in the door. Our interns are actually paid at least minimum wage, but they have no guarantee of receiving a job offer from the experience. The point is to get them experience that they can take with them and help them get a good job. Employers really like using this arrangement because it reduces labor costs for them and allows them to test the waters without making a commitment. I understand that everyone is trying to stretch their budget and I empathize with both employers and unpaid interns trying to “make it.”

    • ynpnorlando says:

      All great points, Sarah. It is such a tough debate because both sides have very real, and very valid, points. The author would love to think that everyone should be compensated for their work, but understands that sometimes the compensation is the opportunity itself!

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