I remember when I got my first internship. Was I happy? Let me tell you, I was overjoyed. To finally be given a chance to step into the industry I’ve been dreaming of was such a great feeling. I made it through the Applicant Tracking System and was on my way to experiencing the industry.

Yes, it was unpaid, and yes it had no promise of a full-time position. Did it do much for my future job prospects? Not really. Sure, it made my resume look nice, and a bit fancy, but no questions get asked, and even after completing several more internships after that, many companies required that I needed further ‘experience’.

But aren’t internships experience? They are, but for some companies, it sadly isn’t enough. Your best bet is to land an internship and pray it progresses to a full-time position.


What is an intern?

In America, the concept of an intern or apprentice deprived decades ago; wherein 1909 Northeastern University was the first to launch this program. It didn’t catch on until the 60s and grew in the 1990s. As of today, over 1.5 million people will work as an intern per year.

For those interns who are unpaid, unfortunately, they only have a 37% chance of getting a job, 1% per cent more than graduates who have no internship experience. It’s shocking, isn’t it? But hey, if you do manage to score an internship that does pay, your chances do increase by 60% — massive difference.


The financial hardships

A big reason I was able to complete my internships was that I was financially able to. I had to cancel work on certain days to do my internships, but with the help from my parents, I was able to make ends meet.

Everyone else is not so lucky like I was. In The United States, attending college is expensive enough. Affording to gain ‘experience’ at an unpaid internship is another issue.

Many would debate against this and say that you need to start from the bottom to make your way up to the top. True. This is something I profoundly believe in. But at what cost? For the rich kids in your society to be able to afford to do summer internships at Vogue? While other brilliant, yet lower financially supported kids give up and never get a chance. Take this for example. A bid for a week-long internship at Vogue went for $42,500; I’m still just as confused as you.

Even internships that do offer to pay, are at such a low rate, and unless you get your opportunity to intern for Apple, Amazon or Google, you pretty much will be working for no cost. Free labour.

Colleges and universities do well with this. They have made prerequisites for students to complete an internship as part of their course to graduate. So, students have to pay their university to complete a class (internship), that they have to venture out and find/learn on their own, and get no pay for this labour work.

With such expensive rent prices, especially living in N.Y.C, Washington and L.A; it’s no wonder many small-town kids can’t afford to move and start with their career progression.

Companies need to think and implement being progressive, and by doing that they need to be flexible on supporting interns. I spend around $50 a week on public transport to get to work, and so can interns; the difference is that I get paid to work, and can afford this expense. How can $15 per hour for a 3-month internship hurt? Hire interns only if you can afford to pay them.

There have been internships I’ve wanted to apply for, and couldn’t because it required me to work full-time with no payment. At the time I was working part-time while studying my degree. How could I survive completing an internship Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm and be able to work, pay my bills, afford transportation, and complete my studies? It can work for some people, but the only option I had (to be given that flexibility), was to quit my part-time job. No can do.


Save, save, save, gone.

The downside of saving enough money to be able to afford not to be working for a few months is ‘time’. It could take potential interns even up to one year to do that, and with that, it makes them one year older and can put them at a disadvantage against the more younger crowd who can easily afford it.

Expressing opinions on this matter stems directly through Twitter, where individuals are questioning whether it’s exploiting interns or offering an opportunity. They share experiences and unfortunate endeavours where people of color, the LGBTQ community and other minorities are not given the same opportunities. Others argue that you have to struggle to succeed but at a cost.


Tricky business.

With career advisors and professors encouraging students to have several internships under their belt before they graduate, it can become even harder once a student has graduated. For some organisations they may only take in wealthier postgrad applicants who they know can afford it, rather than offering an income to graduates who are at a lower financial medium.

Not everyone likes change, but with this ongoing debate on whether interns should be paid or not is tricky. For me, of course, I’m going to say pay interns; I used to be one and know many students who had to turn down internships because they couldn’t afford it.

At times, you may question what the benefit of an internship even is? Internships are both work and learning experiences of what it will be like in the real world, so once again it’s tricky.

Interns benefit the employer, as they’re working for free and the employer doesn’t need to worry about incurring costs. If an intern makes a mistake or fails to complete set tasks, the company merely ends the internship just like that.


What’s next?

America, like so many other countries, is still behind in the rise of paying their interns. What do you believe should be different? Do you reimburse your interns who work full-time?

At the end of the day it is an opportunity, and a possible foot in the door. The door could be huge so mind your way as you enter. Thankfully, there are incredible nonprofit organisations that are fighting against Congress to pay interns.

Trevor Smith, Direction of Pay Our Interns has said that “if someone is for the ‘Fight for $15’ but doesn’t pay their interns, we see that as someone that’s not truly invested in helping lower-income people. If they campaign on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but then don’t pay their interns behind peoples’ backs, I would call it phony”.

I hope that further change is still yet to come, and maybe you can help make that change happen too.


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