Unpaid internships minimize diversity, detract from workplace
For graduating seniors looking for a full-time jobs and continuing students applying to a summer programs, the phrase “unpaid internship” is all too familiar. And while the idea of gaining hands-on professional experience may sound enticing, accepting an unpaid position is a luxury many students cannot afford.
In addition to basic costs like food and travel, many summer programs require students to relocate and find and pay for temporary housing. Students are expected to fund such costs of living while working jobs with little or no compensation. For many, this is an impossible task. Many students, especially those of low-income backgrounds, simply do not have the means to work without pay.
The result of such exclusionary employment is simple: Students with less money are restricted in their opportunities to gain work experience — and ultimately, in entering the job market.
In January of this year, the United States Department of Labor issued new guidelines as to how unpaid internships are defined and issued. The new standards require that the work of interns complement rather than replace the work done by paid employees and that interns be trained in an “educational” manner rather than an instructional one. These new standards are bundled under a “primary beneficiary test,” which lists the requirements employers must pass before hiring an unpaid intern. Many have argued that these new guidelines make it easier for programs to hire interns without pay.
Students applying to full-time, paid positions after graduation are only eligible if they have prior work experience — say, the kind of experience acquired during an unpaid internship. But according to a 2017 report by the nonprofit group Pay Our Interns, low-income students and people of color are less likely to successfully enter a job market after graduation because they lack prior experience.
The report further describes unpaid internships as “a blight marring the face of the American job market.”
Preventing a diversity of students from applying to such positions only furthers a homogenous workforce. The diversity of its constituents — whether in terms of background or experience — is the driving force behind improvement and ingenuity. Asking students to perform work at the level of a professional without pay is not only questionably unethical, but also damaging to the future job market.
This spring, while college students apply for those sought-after internship programs that put their classroom knowledge to the test, remember that such positions come with a price — or rather, for none at all.
Written by: The Editorial Board