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Opinion: Unpaid internships are taking advantage of college students

An internship is a job, and that is why interns need to be paid for the work they do

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"Unpaid internships take advantage of college students and there needs to be a change in the way companies conduct internship programs."

 


College students throughout the nation flock to find internships. Whether that's because it's an ASU program requirement to have internship credit to graduate, or the students want hands-on experience that will help improve their resume, internships are a great way for college-aged students to prepare for employment.

However, unpaid internships take advantage of college students and there needs to be a change in the way companies conduct internship programs.

Internships require a lot of work, whether that means going out in the field, working in an office or lab space or working remotely. Most importantly, an internship is a job, and that is why interns need to be paid for the work they do. No one likes to do work for free, and interns are no exception.

In dealing with these circumstances, companies that pay their interns report they are "more likely to be happy in their positions than their peers working in unpaid intern roles. Happier, higher-quality interns produce better work," according to Parker Dewey, a website that allows college students and recent graduates to find micro-internships.

This information shows interns are more likely to produce quality work when they are getting paid for their work, rather than just gaining experience and working for free. When people are happy and motivated in their work environment, it allows people to enhance their work, no matter what their task is, and make the most of their time interning.

Delaney Field has an unpaid internship through ASU. She trims videos of governors from during the height of the pandemic. The videos are then run through a transcription service to be rated on their charisma. 

"I also am OK with being paid because it is making advancements in research through my internship which can better the lives of not only society but also the people directly influenced by politics," said Field, a biomedical science student.

This raises the question of whether internship programs that do not pay their interns are exploiting their interns.

The simple answer is yes. They are not receiving financial compensation for the work they are doing, just the experience of working in a profession they hope to pursue after graduation. 

"Sometimes I do push it to the back-burner just because I don't feel like it's necessarily a top priority because I'm not getting direct benefits from it right away but overall I feel like it was still a good opportunity," Field said.

The Department of Labor has rules set in place regarding the issue of unpaid work; however, it is up to the company hosting the internship to find the loopholes in these rules, depending on the circumstances. 

According to the Department of Labor, "courts have described the 'primary beneficiary test' as a flexible test, and no single factor is determinative. Accordingly, whether an intern or student is an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act necessarily depends on the unique circumstances of each case."

ASU does an excellent job of listing what the requirements are for an internship in regards to class preparation and what needs to be submitted to the outlet that you are applying to. The University also lists the number of hours linked to credits for the internship.

Not only can it be draining, but students who have to pay for their own tuition and other school needs such as rent lean on jobs throughout the year and when a student essentially has to manage two jobs, with one being for pay and the other receiving no pay, it is a huge task to conquer.

ASU can be that difference maker by requiring their students to only accept an internship for credit if it is paid. This way forces students to seek paid opportunities to put themselves in a position to succeed.


Reach the columnist at alkalmba@asu.edu and follow @adokalm32 on Twitter.

Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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