Internships should pay

Geneva Mueller
Geneva Mueller

The struggle is officially real. As finals week comes rushing at us way too quickly for our liking, the fear of summer unemployment becomes more and more of a reality. Sure, there are plenty of jobs on the CareerRam, the Student Job Listing service and websites like Indeed and Idealist.

But, it isn’t just about finding a job — these days, it’s about finding the right job. We need to find a job that we’re proud to put on our resume; something that provides us with experience in our chosen field, potentially a professional reference. Ideally, it would be with a company that has a bit of name recognition, something that jumps off the page. But, the primary hope of college-aged students is that their summer employment comes with one important, but seemingly archaic compensation: a paycheck.

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A 2007 study conducted by Vault, a career counseling company, found that 74 percent of sampled graduates had completed an internship by the time of their graduation. Many universities and institutes of higher education are stipulating completion of an internship as part of their graduation requirements.

CSU requires this of students studying human development and family studies, environmental health and health and exercise science, to name a few. Many other departments allow a certain amount of credits to be substituted for a number of hours completed through an internship. In theory, internships are a great way to get hands-on experience in your chosen field. They provide a snapshot into what it might be like to work in the industry. And, if nothing else, they add depth and integration to your resume. But, are they really worth it if they don’t also add to your bank account?

The survey conducted by Vault in 2007 also found that 29 percent of those who completed internships were not paid. Under the Fair Labor and Standards Act, an employee is one who is “suffered or permitted to work;” these individuals must be compensated. However, FLSA explains that if the work completed by an individual serves only his or her own interest, they cannot be considered an employee. In this sense, if an employer can spin it so that the work you complete as an intern is for your own personal and professional development, you can’t even be considered an employee.

I understand the ideology that internships help students grow as young professionals; I understand their validity as an educational experience. I might even understand being compensated with academic credit, if the employer paid for the credits we received. But, what I don’t understand is how the government has allowed such a huge loophole to remain open. Considering that the U.S. government itself makes use of unpaid internships, it seems a little too convenient that this stipulation stands. And, while some strides have been made recently with the high degree of visibility surrounding the Fox Searchlight, NBCUniversal, Conde Nast and Hearst Corporation class action suits, a lot of ambiguity and dissonance remains.

If you are devoting your time and energy to a company, increasing their productive capacity and contributing to their stock of knowledge capital, you should be compensated your due. I find it entirely unrealistic that internship programs exist in which the sole beneficiary is the intern themselves. While internships do contribute to the human capital of an individual by providing necessary industry experience and allowing you to add something to your resume, is it really possible that you spend the length of your internship in an observational role from which the company gains nothing? How likely is it that the company wouldn’t have needed to hire an additional employee had you not been there? I think we all know the answer to both of these questions.

The recent proliferation of unpaid internships — especially those offered by the government — is truly appalling to me. Have we forgotten the historic battle of our brothers and sisters charged with the responsibility to define themselves as individuals worthy of compensation? If we don’t stand up for ourselves and demand, quite frankly, what we believe is our true exchange value, then we send a message that we aren’t worth anything at all. For most of us, our greatest resource is our time. And if we are choosing to devote a portion of that to professional development in a productive capacity, we need to send the signal that we believe in ourselves and our future productive capacity as young professionals. And that means being compensated fairly for the dedication of our time.

Geneva Mueller just wants to be paid for the work that she does. Feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

In Brief:

You can find the right job, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be paid.

There are huge loopholes in the government that are allowing students to not be paid for the work that they do.

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We deserve a paycheck, and we demand to be paid.