Opinion: Are unpaid internships experience or gimmick to profiteering?

Editor's note: This article was submitted to GYV by a guest writer from South Korea, Jeonghyun Kim, who is currently a graduate student at Georgetown University in D.C.

For college students, seeking internships over the course of the time spent in school is important. It’s so important that it doesn’t matter to whether it’s vacation time, paid or not. Internships can help a student gain valuable work experience and make connections in real industries.

According to the Daily Toreador, college students choose to have jobs such as pizza delivery drivers or cashiers because they don’t have the alternative of paid internship. Most students who opt for unpaid internships also need to do extra part-time work on the weekends to survive. Therefore, a student’s vacation is just a dream.

What is not always known is that an unpaid internship can make a student really strapped rather than assist in learning.

Students, especially those considering taking internships in fashion, journalism, or non-profit organizations, have limited options for paid internships, so they have no choice but to work without compensation.

As a matter of fact, in August 2015, the issue of unpaid internships was brought to the fore when the United Nations faced pressure to revisit their unpaid internship policy after David Hyde, an intern-turned-activist, fought for the rights of all interns, particularly those unpaid.

Most students think that employers use students as temporary errand runners. Activists against the unpaid internship define it as a form of slavery.

In the long run, unpaid internships demotivate students. They foster a lack of fulfilment and a sense of responsibility as they are not being reciprocally compensated for all their efforts done leading to an increase in the number of students goofing around.

The good news is that internships are often counted as coursework. However, universities recognize that both students and employers need to find a way to resolve the lack of benefits inherent in the system.

According to the Los Angeles Times, employers should consider alternative programs such as cooperative courses with universities. Educational institutions and companies can collaborate, so that students can earn credits from an internship to earn a degree.

There remain problems with the system of using unpaid internships to earn credits. Universities requiring students to be interns, and at the same time pay for these credits, makes it somewhat unjustifiable. It is ironic that they need to work without pay and pay for whatever credit they earn.

LA Loyolan mentioned that even though they may be unpaid, internships can impart experience and give students insight into what they would want to do in the future. An internship is part of an educational environment that is highly beneficial if it’s under the supervision of existing staff.

There are other ways for students to get this kind of experience. Many universities hire professors with a great deal of expertise who have retired from careers in various industries so students can access these professional perspectives within the university setting.

Forbes suggested that students should think of internships as volunteer work since many people prefer not to pay a volunteer. It’s unlikely that companies will start paying for internships as long as they’re not legally bound to do so.

In any case, along the way, the experience provided to volunteers or interns can help careers to prosper in the near future. From the perspective of an internship viewed as a volunteer work, it is clear that giving interns experience is more than enough compensation and that paying for their labor exceeds the limits of what companies may have allotted to their budgets.

From my own experience, when I volunteered for work, I was provided with lunch, a living place and transportation costs. They appreciated my contribution as a volunteer and showed me their gratitude. I also felt that I could impart my abilities to their work. Because of this, volunteer work can be better than an unpaid internship. It is certainly better than organizing papers or getting coffee.

The U.N. also provides volunteers with some basic living expenses and travel payments to show their gratitude.

Interns, employers and universities benefit from the internship system, but we also have to consider the following question: who prospers more?

Even though there are many arguments against unpaid internships, there have been few changes, and it dispirits students that unpaid internships don’t always progress into a full-time, permanent jobs.

With all these facts out in the open, there are still many job seekers, including students, who resort to unpaid internships. It is also a fact that most of these job seekers don’t want the treatment that comes with the internship, but they need to add something concrete to their resume.

There are paid internships, of course, but the reality is that there are far more unpaid ones. The new generation must resort to this sad situation because it has to, but superiors must also have respect for these young individuals who have been poorly served by a system with very few benefits.

Cover photo credit: Squarespace.com