Most college students believe that in order to get a good job, you first need a good internship. And even if it’s unpaid, students sometimes feel it’s worth their time to get a foot in the door of a chosen field, according to interviews with a dozen students around Richmond.
However, according to an article in the New York Times, the internship business may be getting a bit too reliant on free labor. And that has brought the debate about internships to the forefront of the business news cycle, complete with an Op/Ed in the Wall Street Journal.
“The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not,” ran in the April 2 New York Times and summarized the law, which states that internship must not displace regular employees for that company, must be educational, and must be mostly beneficial to the intern, and not to the company.
If the employer is for-profit, there are very few circumstances in which they can legally take on an unpaid intern, the story reported.
Mason Gates, who started Internships.com as a website where employers could post their internship offerings and students could find them, said it’s an outdated law from the days when kids apprenticed with tradesmen. Gates has since sold the company but remains active.
“No one should dictate the value of my time and how I spend it but me and the other party for whom I work. Working for whatever I decide is worthwhile compensation (money, experience, connections, etc.) is not my university’s or my government’s,” he said in an email.
At Virginia Union University, Career Services Coordinator Penni Sweetenburg-Lee, said that she encourages students to take internships whether they are paid or not, to get the experience.
She said that about 80 percent of the internships are paid, leaving only about 20 percent of students working for free.
Sweetenburg-Lee said strongly that internships should have rules and requirements, and has a specific and strict list of guidelines for every internship that she advertises.
“Career services has an obligation to make sure that is happening and to make sure the student is having a viable internship experience,” she said. “I never approve an internship unless they meet our specific requirements and guidelines.”
She said that the fact that an internship is unpaid would not dissuade most of her students from taking it.
“Most students if they are assertive are working part-time jobs [in addition to their internships and classes,]” she said.
Internships are not required for most students at VUU. They are not required either for students at University of Richmond.
Reilly Moore, a senior at University of Richmond, will be interning this summer at Radio Walden Richmond. And although the internship is unpaid, Moore will be getting compensated for his work there through the Virginia Association of Broadcasters.
He said that he applied for lots of different internships, none of which were unpaid.
“I wouldn’t have taken it completely unpaid,” Moore said.
He said that because it is a requirement for some student at UR, internships spots are very hard to get and extremely competitive, paid or not, but that the paid ones are always the first ones that get filled.
“When you specifically hit ‘paid’ [On SpiderConnect, a student source that lists available internships] the list gets a lot smaller,” he said.
The career center at Virginia Commonwealth University was not familiar with the rulings or the press it had been getting lately.
Michael Emmons, a senior English major at VCU said that he would probably take an unpaid internship.
“I don’t mind if the internship is not paid as long as I get the experience,” he said.
However, he did say that he doesn’t plan on interning until after graduation and that he would not do an unpaid internship at the present time.
Kaitlin Mayhew is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected]