To the unpaid internship naysayers

To the unpaid internship naysayers

Early last week I was bothered by a highly-opinionated facebook post that announced that unpaid internships are a cruel mistreatment of college students and that nonprofits do adolescents a grave injustice by welcoming them through our doors.

In entirely capital letters, the post included a call to action they should be paid, emphasizing that interns add value no matter what their skill level. One commenter naively responded to the opinion piece, "Unpaid internships still exist?"

Yes they do.

They are alive and well and will continue to be the foundation upon which young college students gain valuable, hands-on experience. My nonprofit's intern program accepts 5-10 students with various levels of work experience for semester-long opportunities.

We guide them, mentor them, show them all aspects of our mission, and even ensure that they leave with a portfolio of work and a strong professional network. Our program has been featured by local universities as a preferred location to intern, and we even have several interns each year who select our organization over paid opportunities...You heard it right, they chose the opportunity over the cash.

So why unpaid?

As an intern supervisor managing three departments in addition to our intern program, my time is valuable. Here's how just one intern experience breaks consumes my time over the course of a semester:

  • 1 hour  Intern Interview
  • 1 hour  Intern Site Visit and Staff Meet and Greet Opportunity
  • 1 hour  Intern Selection and Acceptance Correspondence
  • 1 hour  Course credit paperwork with professor
  • 5 hours  Additional course credit reviews with professor
  • 1 hour  Intern Midterm Progress Update
  • 1 hour  Intern Exit Interview
  • 1 hour  Letter of Recommendation Writing/Emailing
  • 1 hour  Intern LinkedIn Endorsements, Recommendations
  • 2 hours  Correspondence re: schedule changes, exams, etc.
  • 15 hours  15 mins daily sync re: projects, duties, updates, etc. over semester
  • 15 hours  15 mins daily sync re: progress of projects
  • 8 hours  Interns from other departments shadow me for a day
  • 2 hours  Intern Networking Events and professional development

55 hours per semester, and I'm not exaggerating. More than a week of my time goes into just basic oversight, not to mention that many interns lack office etiquette, typing skills, office formatting information, and some even have limited english language usage in an office setting - all requiring additional mentorship and support. Nevermind that I'm one staff member on a whole team of managers and operations staff ready to support and assist our interns. Let's also remember that we have 5-10 interns each semester.

We are careful to provide close watch over our interns so they leave with more than a line on a resume, and I understand that the post was probably directed at coffee-fetching admin roles that lack opportunity and interest.

But, unpaid internships aren't a rabid dog in need of euthanasia. They are a chance for a young person to roll up their sleeves and tackle real-world problems they aren't ready to solve on their own. If these students were ready for the workplace, chances are they'd be there. Until then, unpaid internships serve a dual purpose with mutual benefit, and I doubt they're going anywhere anytime soon.

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