Experience is worth a lot more than money.
Unpaid internships get a bad rap for taking advantage of students and young adults looking to make their way in a new career by not paying them during one of the most financially vulnerable points of their life. One overlooked in this argument, however, is the fact that experience, in today’s job market, is more valuable than quick monetary gain.
Unpaid internships actually benefit students a lot more than people think and you only lose a few years of pay at most. In most cases, the work experience will actually give you a leg up when competing for jobs. And having an unpaid internship on your resume will also show employers that you’re willing to hustle to get where you want to be.
The issue people have is that they think of it as working a job with no pay, but in actuality you’re receiving free, on-the-job training.
Not to mention it’s not like anyone is forcing you to work an unpaid internship unless your program requires it — they are completely voluntary. It’s up to you whether or not you want that extra line on your resume. In reality, an unpaid internship is no different than volunteer work but with the added benefit of being able to do something in your field.
For students coming out of university and other heavily academic atmospheres, unpaid internships can be extremely valuable in teaching them how to actually do a job in a more practical setting.
In recent years many news sources have put out opinion pieces and articles detailing the negatives behind unpaid internships. In 2013 The Globe and Mail published an article in the comment section titled ‘Unpaid Internships are Just Wrong’. The article explains the author’s stance on the issue quite well and gives some valid arguments. It references the fact that in some cases companies have indeed used unpaid internships as free labor rather than a tool to teach potential employees. But it again fails to recognize what exactly you get out of an unpaid internship.
In 2014 the Canadaland podcast ran an episode called the ‘The End of Internships’. The episode centered around the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s crackdown on unpaid internships, specifically the investigation into Toronto Life and The Walrus magazine. There is also a Forbes article from 2016 titled ‘Are Unpaid Internships Ever OK? Silicon Valley Workforce Expert Says It’s Not Worth the Risk’. This article lists up front the reasons why internships are useful, which I generally agree with. “Internships have become a significant part of college for many students, giving them practical, real-world experience to put on their entry-level resumes,” states the article. But then it quotes a Silicon Valley workforce expert who says “paying minimum wage is always the best option.”
Although these kinds of articles probably come from a good place, however, all they really do is put undue pressure on the companies to eliminate unpaid internships. The result of this?
Less experience for students.
If a company gets rid of its unpaid internships, at best it may keep a fraction of them as paid, effectively taking more opportunities away from students who desperately need them.
It can be easy to get tunnel vision and only think about the money, but the experience you get will more than likely pay the bills you rack up.
One issue many students have with unpaid internships is how to still pay rent and keep food on the table. If you’re in school you can apply for grants and look for programs that include an internship opportunity. This would then allow you to keep your head above water by using your OSAP or other education-based loans.