11 April 2010

Interns, unpaid volunteers or exploitation

The San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times recently published articles that questioned whether many of the internships offered by for-profit companies are in reality a means of exploiting college students and graduates for unpaid labour instead of providing training as intended. From the Chronicle

In an increasingly competitive job market, internships have become crucial for graduating students or people looking to change careers. In some professions (especially the arts and the world of nonprofits), the unpaid internship is nothing new. But as unpaid internships mushroom in the for-profit world of business, government officials need to step in and ensure that interns aren't being exploited.

Some of these unpaid internships violate federal workplace laws: They displace regular employees, fail to pay interns who should be paid, and don't provide "educational benefits" for those who are legally allowed to work for free.

To put it bluntly: For some employers, the internship has become about taking advantage of free labor rather than a mutually beneficial exchange of work and training for employers and students.

In addition, NY Times also suggested that many students and graduates from poorer backgrounds simply cannot afford to work unpaid compared to those with a means to support themselves.

Volunteering for non-profits and charities is one thing, to receive actual on-the-job training although unpaid is another thing. To work for a for-profit company with no benefits other than for the company is just exploitative.


liz888 said...

The other view:
Every summer my company takes in several high school students as interns. They spend three unpaid months an get a hands on experience in the various functions of a pharmaceutical company. This type of experience is a valuable addition to their resumes when they apply for university entrance. All our past interns have been accepted to presigious universities and now we have a waiting list of students who want to come and work for us without compensation. I personally consider it a community service that benefits all.


Daniel said...

Good point. Gaining experience is still valuable.

The interns who do photocopying all day are the ones who are likely to be exploited.