Why To Stop Exploiting Internships

Internship is a great way to build relationships with potential future employees entering the labor market. There are obvious benefits for the company in the form of getting some junior people to help out with the workload while incurring relatively small costs. It also helps with identifying those who may one day become full-time employees. And it can be a great way to build a brand on the market, especially at universities.

There are also obvious benefits for interns. They are eager to learn, and they want to get a head start in life. They get a glimpse of the real world and get a feel of what is out there. They can get a feel of how companies work, what sort of jobs are out there, what the company culture looks like. They start building habits that will be beneficial once they join the workforce fulltime.

The advantages are clear on both sides. Of course, it assumes that you do the internship right. Too often, you see companies who use the interns as cheap labor and essentially exploit them. That is not good for the interns, and it is not good for the company in the long run either.

Don’t exploit

Only because someone joins as an intern, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be treated with respect. It doesn’t mean they can be exploited. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be adequately paid. Companies often use the excuse that it is for the benefit of the intern to get real-world experience, and therefore, it should be enough.

Interns are not slaves who are here to do the most menial task no one else wants to do. Of course, they can do only the type of tasks they are qualified for or can be trained fast on, but even that can be done the right way.

Keep in mind that this should be a mutually beneficial relationship. Keep also in mind that you may be setting a tone for their professional life. The way the interns are treated can have a remarkable effect on their attitude and approach towards work when they enter the market. It is your moral responsibility to help them start their professional careers the right way.

Be inclusive

The fact that you shouldn’t be biased during the interview process even for interns should go without saying. If you are an equal opportunity employer, you shouldn’t disqualify even interns based on their gender, ethnicity, religion, and other protected classes. You should use the same approach to hiring interns as you have when hiring regular employees.

The pay comes into question also when talking about inclusion. If you provide unpaid internships, it means it is accessible only to select few who can afford it. You may think you are treating everyone equally, but you are not. There is a difference between equality and equity.

By providing unpaid internships, you automatically exclude those who need at least some income to keep alive. You are making it available only to those who have someone else, often parents, who keep supporting them.

You are creating a disadvantage for those coming from low-income backgrounds already at the beginning of their careers. They can’t afford the internship. They get disadvantaged by not getting the experience their rich friends get. When these students who couldn’t afford unpaid internships enter the job market looking for a full-time job, they will have less experience in the field, and therefore lower starting salary.

Think about your brand

If you still don’t care, then consider the impact on your brand. If you provide unpaid internship or you pay the minimum wage to interns, you run a risk that you will create an employer brand of someone who is cheap and doesn’t pay well. This information gets spread at universities, and you may then struggle to attract other students when they enter the workforce.

It is not only about money. You should understand that your employees and interns are great brand ambassadors. If they have a great experience with the company, they will spread the word. If you hire interns and just stuck them into a tedious job for a couple of months while no one cares about what they are doing, they will leave the internship with a pretty bad experience. They may spread their negative experience around. It is unfortunate for them, and bad for the company.

Now imagine that after they joined the internship, they’ve got a buddy assigned who will help them navigate the corporate environment. They will get the opportunity to truly contribute, working on something that will be actually used. It will be communicated to them what the meaning of their work is. They will even get some training and an opportunity to glimpse of what type of jobs and work exists in their selected career. They get paid fairly and treated with respect. You are instantly transforming interns into company fans and the best employer ambassadors.

Putting it all together

Internships are a way to help the young generation to start their career right. You can show them what real inclusion and equity means. You can show them that even the corporate environment can be fun. You can connect them with good mentors. You can inspire them. You can show them that they can have an impact on the lives of others in whatever roles they have. You can show them that ethics still matter. You can show them that there is hope.


What are your thoughts on the topic? Do you employ interns in your company? How do you approach it? Who do you think is getting more from the internship, the company or the interns?

Photo: geralt / Pixabay.com

Categories: Career, Leadership

Tags: , , ,

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