As college students, the importance of landing an internship to further our eventual careers is drilled into our heads from the beginning of our time at Fairfield. Interns will practically do whatever it takes, including endless runs for coffee, if it means the possibility of a job or a recommendation upon graduation.
But a recent article in The New York Times has questioned the validity of these unpaid internships, challenging the legality of making students work without pay. As companies continue to eliminate jobs and unemployment rates remain high, it seems many employers have even been using interns to replace workers, reaping the benefits of free labor.
One can argue that these students are getting something in return for their labor – they are gaining real-world experience for the career they wish to pursue. But what about the students who spend their days doing busy work? One student in the article even mentioned that instead of gaining knowledge and experience in animation at a film company, she was ordered to wipe door handles every day to prevent swine flu in the office. Surely it is unfair and illegal to not get paid for doing the same work that a paid temp would do. And further, the students probably would never have taken these internships had they known that they were going to be doing such menial work.
Here at Fairfield many internships are for credit, which means not only that we do not get paid, but WE are paying to do them. However, all of the students I have spoken with have had positive experiences as interns. Fairfield in general tends to be successful in finding internships for students that are beneficial to them and their futures.
Another issue many students have is that they can’t afford to spend a summer working with no pay. Although economic troubles have left many companies struggling for money, students are also pressed for cash. Many of us are buried under student loans, credit card bills and bar tabs. If we could get a job over the summer, preferably one that also pays tips or commissions, why would we spend our summers working our butts off for no paycheck? In a college student’s world, money trumps the possibility of a recommendation any day.
For those students who can afford to take an unpaid position, it is disheartening to gain no experience except for how to balance multiple coffees at once. Yet we continue to bend over backwards for internships, not daring to speak out about the lack of pay for fear of being passed over for jobs. Most of the students in The New York Times article refused to be named, showing what a strong hold employers have over interns. Unfortunately, this is the case for many of us.
Now don’t get me wrong, internships – even unpaid ones – can be beneficial if you are doing something useful or worthwhile. There can be no price put on experience or your future. But if you are doing the work of a full-time employee, or are being used more as a courier pigeon than an intern, it may be time to join the fight against illegal internships.