North Texas Daily

Banking on unpaid internships

Banking on unpaid internships

October 07
23:40 2015

The Editorial Board

As graduation looms for many, a question raises concerns for those about to embark on what they hope will be their first step into a prosperous career: is an unpaid internship equal to monetary compensation if the experience is greater?

One notable lawsuit, which was filed in September 2011 and recently overturned, opposed the practice of unpaid internships at Fox Searchlight Pictures. The company was shown to have violated both federal and New York minimum wage laws by not paying its interns.

The judge found these internships did not constitute an environment indicative of the student’s education in their respective field of film, and the benefits to the studio from interns’ work were directly quantified in the production of the Oscar-winning film “Black Swan.”

Even after the second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the previous ruling in favor of the interns, elements of the argument against unpaid internships remained.

A report done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers asked 9,200 graduating college seniors across varying majors about any past or ongoing internship they might have had. They also asked if the students had received any job offers prior to graduating.

The results found 63.1 percent of students in paid internships had already received a job offer in contrast to 37 percent of those in similar unpaid positions. In comparison, out of the 35.2 percent of those who had not had any sort of internship, only 1.8 percent less than those unpaid had received a job offer.

From these results, it would seem that those taking an unpaid internship have built themselves an opportunity in parity with those who have taken no temporary position.

These results are troubling, but their implications raise issues of their own. If the monetary value of an internship is nil, the argument of compensation tends to become subjective.

Asking a student what they’ve gained from experience in their field, paid or not, is not scientifically quantifiable and is dependent on the experiences of the individual.

A physics student offered an unpaid position at NASA, or a political science major offered a summer job on Capitol Hill, might rank the exposure to and experience with those in the top of their respective fields over any amount of money they could’ve made at a paid gig.

In any case, a certain responsibility falls on the student to properly judge the merits of their respective offers and what they personally feel to be valuable. But companies at large should consider their obligations to understand the needs of those who they could eventually hire, as someone with the right skills might not have the means to work without pay.

In the end, there is no single solution to these problems, and disputes will persist even if companies at large are one day legally required to pay all interns across the board.

In the meantime, students should ask themselves yet another question: If you aren’t being paid, what does it say about the company offering you the position?

Featured Image: Creative Commons 

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