Unpaid internships are, in my opinion, a blight infecting the modern American economy. I understand why companies offer them, and if they were truly a way for those entering the workforce to get some real world experience by taking on a light work load within their chosen field, I might even support them. But they aren’t – instead, unpaid internships have become a way for businesses to get free labor. And we aren’t talking about one or two faceless corporations taking advantage of a crummy system either, this problem is endemic; the prevalence of lawsuits in the news that are filed by unpaid interns show that. I made it a personal mission to be part of the force fighting against the tide of unpaid internships, and I pay every intern I hire for five reasons.
1. Not paying your interns could be illegal.
The United States Department of Labor knows that companies are taking advantage of unpaid internships, and there are strict restrictions on what can qualify as an ‘unpaid internship.’ Among other qualifications, the job training has to be similar to what would be given in an educational environment, the internship must benefit the intern, and the employer cannot derive immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. In other words, if the intern is engaged in any sort of productive work – sales, clerical duties, and customer service – they are likely entitled to a wage, and you could find yourself in hot water.
2. Paid internships attract more candidates
According to a study done by internmatch.com, an online internship advertising service, paid internship postings get clicked on 2.5 times more than unpaid postings. Good, hard-working candidates will gravitate more towards a job that rewards them for their work than one that won’t give them a dime. Some of my best employees have come to MyCorp through paid internships, and I am consistently astounded at the quality of the work my interns produce.
3. Interns that get a paycheck are more likely to find a job.
The whole point to an internship is to help a student get experience, and at some point, a full-time job. However, you are hurting your interns if you are not paying them. The National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 63.1% of paid interns received a job offer after graduating, versus 37% of unpaid interns. There are likely different reasons for this discrepancy, but I’m sure a large part of it has to do with the type of work paid interns do. Paid interns are more engaged with their job, and can legally be given the type of work that actually benefits the company. And when you are looking for potential hires, you probably want the candidate with real experience, rather than the one that made copies and went on Starbucks runs.
4. Unpaid labor is bad for society.
Internaware, an intern rights group in England, found that 30% of employees surveyed had previously interned for the company they now work for. Internships are a good idea, but when you don’t pay your interns, you force them to shoulder the burden of living near, or commuting to, the office. If your start-up doesn’t have any money coming in, even scraping together enough cash to fill your gas tank can be a serious hurdle, and there are plenty of interns forced to either sponge of their parents or take on extra loans just to be able to survive while they finish an unpaid internship. Even if your company is inches away from the red, you should at the very least provide a metro card, or some extra money for gas.
5. It is the right thing to do.
Paying your interns is, morally, the right thing to do. I’ve heard and read different analysts moan about the privilege and entitlement of interns pushing for pay, and I think it is ridiculous. When did it become okay to not pay people for their work? The minute an intern shows how helpful and proactive they can be to growing the business, they deserve a wage. Interns are not the 1% – they are students with loans trying to make ends meet. What works for me may not work for everyone, but I earnestly believe in being paid a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s labor. After all, I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the hard work of all of my employees, including my interns.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.
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