Bader: Interns deserve pay for work experiences

Anthony Bader

Summer is quickly approaching and hundreds of thousands of college students will be participating in internships after school gets out. Internships are great opportunities for college students to gain experience in their field before they graduate. It allows students to put more experience on their resume and it allows businesses to get some extra assistance while scouting out prospective future hires.

The problem with many internships is that they are unpaid. According to National Association of Colleges and Employers, roughly 50 percent of internships were unpaid in 2008.

Employers enjoy this strategy because it allows them to keep their costs down. It’s true that any employer could keep their costs down by simply not paying their workers. Unfortunately for them, it’s slightly against the law to not pay workers.

So why do students take internships where they are working for free? They’re desperate. Students know they will be graduating with thousands of dollars of debt so they need a job as quickly as possible out of college.

Employers take advantage of students’ desperation by offering internships that employers claim provides great experience but are unpaid. These employers are able to get away with not paying workers under the guise of the position being an “internship.”

It’s true that there are plenty of internships that provide great experience. It’s also true that plenty of internships consist of menial work like making copies and brewing coffee. In either case, work is being done and compensation is needed.

One could argue that certain companies simply can’t afford to pay their interns. Then I would suggest to them that they not hire interns.

Minimum wage laws exist for a reason. If an employer hires a worker, that employer is required to pay them a minimum amount of money.  

The reason minimum wage laws were enacted is partly because people need to be paid at least a somewhat livable wage. The other reason is that low-skilled or low-experience workers have no leverage when it comes to employment. There is a larger supply of low-experience workers than there are positions so the employer is able to dictate its own terms.

If no minimum wage laws existed, corporations would pay workers as little pay as they could get away with. The worker couldn’t demand more from their employer because they both know there are plenty of other low-skilled workers out there who would be willing to make any amount of money.

The same idea applies to college graduates. Employers know that graduating students are desperate to get a job because those students are likely saddled with thousands of dollars of debt. In our current system, it’s much more difficult to get a job without having had an internship because graduating students have no more experience than their peers.

This whole situation may point to another problem of a disconnect between universities and the work world. Internships are vital to landing a job after college because students are able to experience an actual work environment.

Universities need to adapt to the changing dynamic between educational facilities and the work world. If simulation of a work environment is so essential, maybe we should be looking to universities to adapt their curriculum to include a course that simulates a work environment.

Leaving college and entering the workforce is a challenging step for college students because they go from sitting in a classroom all day to actively participating in their job. There needs to be some sort of bridge between these two worlds.

Journalism students are lucky that they can write for their university owned newspaper and have the opportunity to work in an environment that may be similar to their future career. However, not all majors have this type of opportunity.

Internships are great, but if employers are weary about paying students to participate, then universities should take more of a responsibility in providing students with practical experience.