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The Unpaid Internship- My Hopeful Prognosis

June 21, 2013

NACE_Internships_Jobs_2013You would never guess that our economy is improving given the high unemployment rate for students and young adults.  I have just witnessed my own daughter’s herculean efforts in securing summer employment in her chosen field of interest.  And, pretty much every young adult I know (and I know lots!) have gone through similar challenges.  Some have been successful, but most have not.

My daughter Julie was thrilled when she landed a marketing role. She hopes to gain valuable experience, skills and a great reference for next year’s career search.  I soon learned that this was one of the many unpaid opportunities that are now very common in today’s student job market.  Julie went on to tell me how competitive it is to get one of these coveted roles.  I was shocked.  How can university students afford to work for free when tuition and related costs have soared?  Are parents and/or students taking on even more debt because they can’t secure paid summer employment?  What about those less fortunate- is this practice increasing the gap between the rich and the poor?  Does a student need to be born into the “right” family to secure a meaningful career?

These unpaid roles have spread like wildfire to many industries.  I have heard stories of students completing a four month assignment only to be replaced immediately by another unpaid intern over and over again.  My daughter felt that it was important for her future career to accept the unpaid role.  “If I don’t have relevant experience on my resume, I have little hope of getting any interviews next year” Julie explained.

I hope this practice will end or, at least, subside very soon.  If a job is worth doing, shouldn’t an employer be willing to pay a reasonable wage to have it done?  Does unpaid work not somehow contravene minimum wage legislation or employment standards?

I can’t help but wonder if our young adults are being taken advantage of.  Unpaid internships cannot be good for society in the long run.  Seems to me that delaying or reducing the earning power of our next generation will surely hurt the economy down the road.  I am not usually a fan of government intervention but perhaps this is a good place to start?

For those of us that are employers or can make a difference, we owe it to the next generation.  Everyone deserves a great start in their working life.  And most definitely, fair compensation for a job well done.

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