Unpaid internships are unfair, as well as bad for business

At this time of year, many Mount Allison students are leaving Sackville for the bright horizons of an internship program. Practical experience is invaluable to finding and entering one’s dream career. However, internship programs often have a dark side that is not advertised. Many heading for an internship after graduation will find that, despite the huge amount of labour they may put into their work, and despite all they contribute, they will not be paid for their work. This archaic system is long outdated and does little good for anyone involved, including businesses that think they are getting valuable labour on the cheap.

Unpaid internships limit those who can participate in them to the wealthy or those that are able to take out loans to pay for their living expenses. This eliminates many students from the running for internships. Though they may be more than qualified for the job, financial insecurity may prevent them from trading their labour for nothing but experience in return. It is simply unfair to thousands of Canadian students that have struggled to pay for a university degree to be asked to work for free. Instead of valuable work experience, many students and graduates are forced to take work that contributes, little, if anything, to their resumes. Being forced to tree plant in B.C. may result in a fun summer and money in your pocket, but it will contribute very little to your career prospects if you, like most people, are not interested in making a living in forestry science.

The time immediately following graduation is the time that students need money. To ask them to work for free is contrary to logic. Unpaid internships allow only well-to-do members of society to hone their work skills and advance in their chosen career paths. Its often said that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer; unpaid internships are part of the reason for this.

Volunteering is certainly a noble endeavour.  Since unpaid internships are volunteer labour, many businesses that use them could ask why I criticize something nobody is forced to participate in. The problem with this type of “volunteering” is that it does not contribute to the common good, but instead to the profits and gains of those firms that utilize unpaid internships. This is a perversion of all that volunteering ought to be. This type of “volunteering” serves only to enrich the pockets of businesses around the country and does little to help people or raise awareness of important issues as true volunteering does. If one allows a firm or business to profit, though their labour, they should be given compensation for that.

Imagine if the Canadian Red Cross profited from the work of volunteers who freely donated their time and labour; the outrage would be unimaginable! Similarly, private business has no place using volunteers so that they can profit, offering nothing in compensation except vague notions of “experience.” I thought that we had moved beyond uncompensated labour, but it seems when it comes to young university graduates, uncompensated labour is alive and well. Profiting off of someone and giving them no compensation is morally reprehensible and bad for business.

When firms offer unpaid internships, not only do they exclude thousands of lower income university graduates the opportunity to advance their careers, but they are excluding thousands of potential candidates that could do great things for their business. Sure, they save money in the short term by providing no salary, but in the long run, they unnecessarily limit the qualified talent they can acquire. Essentially, firms unnecessarily limit who can contribute to their operations based on nothing else but the financial security of applicants. A lower-income university graduate may be leaps and bounds ahead of an upper-income graduate in terms of knowledge and skills, but firms deny themselves this talent in their effort to save money. Unpaid internships may benefit a firm in the short term but in the long term they only hurt themselves. Firms are losing dollars by chasing after pennies.

University graduates are coming out of school buried in debt and firms ask them to work for free. This is totally unfair and shows a callous disregard for forethought on the part of firms. Unpaid internships are a relic of a time when unpaid labour was acceptable, and should be done anyway with. I find it difficult to believe that large businesses are unable to afford minimum wage for an intern who does just as much work as a full-time employee.

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