Recently I interviewed a very enthusiastic student from a well-respected program. He was eager to show me his work and we enjoyed a very pleasant conversation discussing how he envisioned his design career. He has a one year work permit and fervently wishes to remain in the US. I asked about his previous experience and he recounted internships at some well-known firms. I was not prepared for him to tell me he had worked at these firms for NO pay. Perhaps this young man feels obliged to work for free because he wants to remain in the US, but what entitles companies to exploit workers like this?
Unpaid Labor is Unacceptable
This post is directed squarely at those who believe they are entitled to have someone provide uncompensated work as an intern. My position is that this is wrong. You work, you get paid, period. Some may justify unpaid labor by claiming that because they are learning on the job, interns do not contribute to the bottom line at the same level as other employees. Firstly, everyone should be learning on the job, regardless of position. Secondly because someone contributes less than someone else is no reason not to compensate them at all. Companies wouldn’t bother hiring interns if their presence amounted to nothing more than a drain on the company. Businesses exist to make money and everyone on board has a duty to perform. Even the smallest effort propels the business forward in some small way and for this effort, every contributor MUST be compensated appropriately. Our interns have offered us significant contributions. While they may have less real world experience, they often bring a keen mind and enthusiasm that permeates a group, raising spirits and pushing others to work a little bit harder. The last intern in my department brought some good skills to the table and needed to work on others. He was assigned projects where he could experiment and learn without risk while still providing a valuable service to the client. We compensated him well while providing his services to our clients and he learned more about working in a team for a client with real needs, budgets and deadlines. Overall, he was a pleasure to work with. Compensate interns fairly. Encourage others in business to do the same. It is the right thing to do.