Unpaid Internships

So the big talk this past week has been the New York Timesarticle about unpaid internships, Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, Officials Say.  It has been the focus on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets.  I have read about it multiple times on my Google Reader.  And the subject even came up in my Human Resources class.  The issue of unpaid internships has been a topic of debate for years, but leave it to the New York Times to create such pandemonium over the issue.

In November, I learned at the PRSSA National Conference in San Diego from Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D., Associate Professor at San Diego State University that some unpaid internships are illegal.  She told us the criteria of legal unpaid internships: credit and non-profits.  However, I had interned at an agency and was unable to receive credit because I had only completed my freshman year, and it was a for-profit agency.

Do I regret interning for no money?  I was in New York City, which is not known for its affordable rent, food, or well, anything.  But I do not regret taking that internship.  I was able to immediately get my foot in the door with the industry.  On the first day they immediately had me pitching to the media.  I was treated like an assistant account executive.  One of the AAEs who started after me even asked me questions concerning some of the software and tools I was using.  Throughout the summer I pitched to the media (including some of the top newspapers and magazines in the country and bloggers), helped plan events, send out press kits, learned how to use software to make media lists, etc.  And I had only finished my freshman year.  I really could not have asked for a bigger opportunity.  Looking back, I do not regret this experience.

I do not think the government should be spending its time tracking down unpaid interns.  The students who choose to take unpaid internships are not forced to take the internship.  It is their choice.  The bigger agencies will not look twice at a freshman with little to no experience.  Students need to take these unpaid internships and get some experience under their belt before they can even consider applying for the larger places.  Internships, paid or unpaid, are already hard to get.  By not allowing unpaid internships at smaller companies who cannot afford to pay their interns, internships will be even scarcer.  The smaller companies and start-ups end up paying their interns through the time it takes to train them and grant them an experience they will not have elsewhere.  I understand that I was lucky enough to have an experience like I did and not all unpaid internships are like this.  However, every student needs to start somewhere.  The unpaid internships are simply an investment in the future for the employer and the student.

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