Does experience pay off for interns?
April 11, 2011 —
In many industries, unpaid internships are a longstanding rite of passage, but do they really benefit students? According to SVSU faculty members, they do.
In the Rhetoric and Professional Writing (RPW) program, students must comeplete two internships as part of their degree program. Though many of these internships are unpaid, professor Beth Jorgensen, the RPW department’s internship coordinator, thinks unpaid internships can be just as rewarding as paid internships.
Jorgensen helps RPW students find internships that match their skills and interests. She also supervises interns throughout the semester, providing students with a person to go to with questions, concerns or difficulties.
Because college credit is usually given for unpaid internships, some companies see no need to pay interns.
“This is what we call experience credit,” Jorgensen said. “And the amount of work that students to is in keeping with the amount they would do for a typical three-credit class.”
Many local businesses cannot afford to pay their interns.
“It’s a tough economy, and employers can’t expect us to need them to pay,” Jorgensen explained. “I wish all interns could earn pay, but those opportunities just aren’t there right now.”
Companies with unpaid interns must follow carefully outlined laws. These laws make it clear that interns must gain more benefit from their work than their employer.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an unpaid intern cannot replace a paid employee, is not guaranteed a job at the end of the internship and is not entitled to wages. However, the department also states that interns must be properly trained to work in the company, must receive handson experience with processes in the industry and that an intern’s training must primarily benefit the intern rather than the organization.
These regulations make clear that unpaid interns cannot be forced to do menial work, such as filing or cleaning. If a student is asked to complete menial work during an internship, he or she should contact their faculty adviser.
“I expect progress reports every week,” Jorgensen said. “If a student tells me that things aren’t going well, I can fix that.”
Some larger companies decline to pay interns because internships are seen as an investment in knowledge. Some corporations, such as NBC, even require interns to pay for the unpaid internship, up to $2,000.
Although these types of internships may offer students networking and job opportunities, Jorgensen calls them “silly,” and adding that, “these huge organizations can afford to pay interns, and they should.”
Professor Bill Williamson, program coordinator and chair of the RPW Department agreed.
“If you’re paying to be an intern, the job becomes less about skill and education and more about how much you can afford to pay,” he said
Williamson added that students should seek paying opportunities whenever possible because they add to the experience.
“Things like salary negotiation are a big part of the hiring process,” he said. “Getting paid as an intern gives you an understanding of what you are worth professionally.”
Williamson also noted that companies who do not pay interns fail competitively against paying companies, noting that students should “seek pay if you can get pay.”
Both paid and unpaid internships offer hands-on experience that will give students knowledge needed in the work force. Mike Major, director of Career Services, noted that an internship experience gives students a leg up when starting a career.
Students are flooded with opportunities to work as interns at local businesses, big companies or on campus.
Many SVSU degree programs require internships. However, students not required to complete an internship should still seek opportunities.
“A lot of internships are discovered by students talking to their friends and family members,” Major said. “You can create many network opportunities, but you can’t be afraid to ask the question.”
Major added that networking sites such as Facebook can be used for students seeking internships.
If a student obtains an internship on his or her own, it’s possible for that student to still receive college credit, although Major encouraged students to be proactive when trying to gain credit for internships, because the process can be lengthy.
“Even if you do an internship that has nothing to do with your major, you’re gaining invaluable knowledge for the work force,” said Major.
Williamson agreed. “A college education has gaps that only handson experience can fill. Internships offer students a chance to learn things that we cannot teach them.”