Editorial: Companies should not take advantage of inexperienced students by offering unpaid internships

In today’s competitive job market, it is vital for students to have experience under their belts when seeking their first job after graduating. But it is not easy, as many positions require prior experience, most of which students can only have from working internships. This allows companies to exert their power and offer unpaid internships.

The Shorthorn editorial board believes unpaid internships are unfair to college students and exploitative.

As we celebrate Labor Day, students should remember they have the chance to select the best internship opportunities and avoid allowing companies to take advantage of their hard work and dedication.

For students, they have to choose between a job that pays the bills or to further their careers. While some people may say internships are entry-level jobs to help students learn more about their dream industries, it is usually a requirement for applicants to have experience prior to applying for a post-graduate job.

Of over 5,200 interns in the class of 2020 surveyed, about 40% said they are not paid for their work, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

The concept of unpaid internships started back in 1947, when the Supreme Court ruled against the trainees in the Walling v. Portland Terminal Co. case after they sued the railroad company for not paying them after seven or eight days of working. 

The ruling said the participants were trainees, and their work would remain unpaid since their presence at the work site did not contribute to furthering the railroad’s business and may have been considered a hindrance. The lack of respect for workers’ wages became acceptable. 

But as the job market gets more competitive, some companies are asking unpaid interns to work up to 40 hours a week, which is the same number of hours compared to a full-time worker. Yet, around 500,000 to one million Americans intern for free every year. 

For low-income students, it is almost impossible for them to accept unpaid intern jobs because their lives depend on income. The unpaid internship system completely excludes them from accumulating the work experience they need.

Many entry-level jobs require applicants to have years of experience beforehand. Having an internship helps an applicant significantly in getting hired. But if the jobs do not pay well, students may not have a place to live or food to eat while interning.

According to research conducted by software company Nulab, around 80% of managers said they would be more likely to hire workers with internship experience. 

So, students who choose a higher paying job may be at a disadvantage when it comes to preparing for their career later in life. But that could be avoided if companies become more willing to offer living wage internships, which is around $14 per hour, according to research by Massachusetts Institute Technology. 

It’s time for companies to acknowledge the exploitative actions that they’re taking against college students and young adults. Giving students an opportunity to learn about their jobs does not mean they should not get paid for the work they do. Without their work, companies have to hire and pay employees to work on those tasks anyway.

Students should also realize the red flags when companies ask them to do unpaid internships. It takes hard work and dedication to do any task. Just because it is one’s dream company and position, companies shouldn’t take advantage of a student’s passion and determination.

When applying for internships, students can spend time researching the company and reading what past interns thought about their time there. If the opportunity presents itself, interns could also negotiate pay after several weeks of working with the company.

Having internship experience is important in this day and age, and most students would appreciate companies for the opportunity to learn more about their dream careers and industries. Companies can do better by their workers, and the interns can realize their worth as well. However, it is not worth it to labor for free, no matter the circumstances.

The Shorthorn Editorial Board is made up of opinion editor Dang Le; Editor-in-Chief Angelica Perez; associate news editor Cole Kembel; Katecey Harrell, life and entertainment editor; design editor Vivian Santillan; news reporter Taylor Coit; and copy editor Jill Bold.

Like our work? Don’t steal it! Share the link or email us for information on how to get permission to use our content.

Click here to report an accessibility issue.

Load comments