Just an intern

All internships should pay at least the minimum wage.

by Hemang Sharma


“Started from the bottom, now we’re here,” Drake raps. This is also what people sing when they get offered a full-time job upon the completion of an internship. Others get nothing out of it, quite literally so.

A transitory phase, an internship takes us from being an inexperienced college student to being a slightly less inexperienced college student, one that is ready to be embraced by the workforce. Professors, counselors and parents tell us how important it is to have an internship or two before we graduate.

Internships seem to be a necessary evil — the notion of “paying your dues” is all too common. They need to be worked around classes, a social life and part-time job(s), as internships are often unpaid or come with a stipend, which isn’t often a fair compensation.

Students who acquire a position with a reputable company, one that actually relates to their major in college, often compromise on the financial aspect in light of other important things. They gain essential skills and connections resultant of them showing up and putting in the work to catch the eye of the supervisors who might whisper a good word to the company’s human resources department and help the intern with a full-time job.

If it is a reputable business, students don’t care whether the position is paid or unpaid because the goal isn’t to make money, it is to learn. The company ends up making a profit by saving the money that would go to an actual wage. The interns are hungry for work, not the money. By accepting these positions, though, students create demand for jobs regardless of a wage, which is a huge incentive for businesses.

But as it happens, the work that interns end up doing tests them physically and mentally. Deadlines, pressure, the desire to impress senior staff and depict productivity, often take a toll. Employers seem to overlook the fact that students who work as interns have expenditures of their own, which they must incur in order to be able to work, like lunch, travel expenses, etc.

There are some big companies who pay their interns a decent amount of money for the short term they employ their services, often more than what a full-time employee would make. I understand that not all companies can afford to treat their interns like professionals, but there has to be a safe middle ground.

There are several factors that limit what a student intern can do. Students often don’t have the time nor the skill of their professional counterparts — thus, there are clear reasons why they can be paid less.

Yet, unpaid internships don’t fall under minimum wage requirements. I implore all business to try to pay their interns instead of relying on the notion that students need to grapple with additional obstacles to be treated like a typical employee. Not only will paying at least minimum wage help unpaid interns with expenses, it would allow them to focus on their internship instead of working at another part-time job simply to pay rent. Paying interns a realistic amount will provide them exactly that: representative, professional expectations of the industry.

Interns don’t need to start getting medical and other benefits. I’m simply advocating that interns be paid at least minimum wage. I have had both paid and unpaid internships — and I know from those experiences that I have put more effort into jobs where I earn something tangible at the end of the day. Rather than treating young people like they need to pay their dues, employers should provide both realistic job expectations and realistic job benefits.