The Unpaid Internship: Yea or Nay?

Oh look, the unpaid internship has been in the news lately and oh, look, it’s something I can discuss firsthand (hooray!).

I first scoffed at the initial lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures. El oh el you silly interns, how can you sue when you knew upfront that you wouldn’t be paid for your work? Shouldn’t you suck it up like the rest of us lowly wage-free workers?

Then I realized, WAIT, their argument actually has merit.

In the music industry – and in the entertainment industry in general – a paid internship is practically unheard of, at least in my experience. Yet internships have become almost a necessity in order to be able to land a job. For students interested in this industry, they must choose between pursuing unpaid experience in the field or a paying job elsewhere.

As I’ve noted before, my internships have provided me with valuable skills. I’m fortunate to have had them and grateful for the contacts I’ve made along the way. The classroom introduced me to the concepts, but it was in the workplace that my true learning occurred. While pay would be nice, it’s something I’m willing to sacrifice in order to be able to land a job that I love in the industry that I love after graduation.

But there’s the catch… I’m blessed that I can sacrifice the income (big thanks to the parental unit on this one). Many students, on the other hand, are financing their own educations and don’t have the luxury of forgoing income. Why should these students be at a disadvantage because of their financial situation? Y’all. Not cool.

Most competitive internships require a minimum of 15 hours a week of work; many require more than this. I can’t imagine trying to juggle an internship, a full load of classes, and a job to pay for school. God bless the weary souls of those who are able to do all of these. You guys rock.

Of course companies can argue that students receive college credit for their work. This is beneficial, but only to an extent. For instance, in the public relations program at my university (SHOUT OUT TO BELMONT – luv yew bunches), a student is required to have only one credited internship. But let’s get real, a competitive résumé includes more than one internship. Some internships even require students to have completed OTHER internships in order to land that one.

If a student wants to pursue more than one unpaid internship, they (or their parents) must pay in order for the student to be able to work. Class credits beyond the first internship no longer are a necessity for completion of the degree.

Well now that seems kind of silly.

Yes, an intern doesn’t have all the skills a recent grad may have, and yes, an intern does require more training and supervision than a regular new-hire. However, interns do work (at least that’s the premise of it) and contribute to the company. So why in the world does it seem acceptable not to pay interns?

I get it. Life’s not fair. There are some things that just can’t be helped, dadgumit. This issue, my dearest people, is not one of them. Companies that are benefiting from the work of an intern should reimburse this work in the form of pay. Simple as that.

But alas, we’re not quite there yet. So until then, I’ll keep on keepin’ on with whatever unpaid endeavors lie before me. If an unpaid internship is the only option I have to gain experience in the industry, then so be it. However, I do hope companies will begin to offer paid internships so more students will be able to participate in these important learning and networking opportunities. Perhaps this shall one day be the case.

Currently Listening:

I’m on another song binge, this time with Phoenix’s “Entertainment” from their newest album “Bankrupt!”. It’s a get-stuck-in-your-head-and-never-leave kind of song. I also bought the album the other day (a physical CD at that, gasp!) and am totally digging it.

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