Editorial: Internships pay more than money

Last month, I interviewed for my first internship. I was hoping to be hired as a summer editorial intern at a magazine close to Rider. I aced my interview and got the job.

On Monday, my summer plans changed. I received an e-mail from my would-be employer — someone I was immensely excited to work for — saying that all unpaid internships at the magazine would be suspended, effective immediately.

A recent article in The New York Times suggests that as many as one-fourth to one-half of internships are unpaid. The U.S. Department of Labor is growing concerned that unpaid internships violate federal minimum-wage laws, and that rather than hiring actual employees, many for-profit companies are using interns as sources of free labor. A law passed in 1938 specifically meant to prevent this from happening is just being looked at now. It’s strange to think that it took over 70 years for a law preventing exploitation of interns to be enforced.

While adequately compensating employees for their work is important (and obviously, common sense), student internships do not necessarily have the same implications as an actual career. Ideally, most students would like to be paid interns, but the reality is that paid internships are few and far between. For the most part, we’ll take what we can get.

Students see internships in a different light. Instead of worrying about pay, most are concerned with whether they’ll be able to receive college credit for the time they put in. If students are ready for an opportunity to break into their respective industries, they should be allowed the experience — with or without pay.

And that’s the thing. Internships are about gaining real-world experience. Throughout college, students hear that experience is a key component of standing out to potential employers. How are we supposed to get that experience and pad our résumés if nobody is able to give us a chance?

Clearly, not every internship offers a period of learning and growth. Larger companies like MTV use student interns for typical grunt work — filing, coffee runs, packing and shipping, etc. In such cases, some interns are exploited for free labor. Smaller organizations, however, are more likely to present students with unique opportunities to learn and truly develop a sense of the industry — something I would have been fortunate enough to do at my own internship.

This also impacts students, like myself, who have internships in place. At Rider, internships are not simply jobs. To have an internship means to participate in a class, one that we have to shell out scarce, precious money for. Students have spent careful time going over their schedules, meticulously planning out each hour to make room for their coveted internships. Should they, too, worry that their new positions will be stripped from them, leaving them scurrying to fill the void in their schedules?

Luckily, it worked out that I can still do my internship, only now I will be getting paid — the result of quick planning on the part of my editor and her boss. Getting paid means that I will be able to keep my internship and get the experience that I wanted. But not everyone will be as lucky.

Perhaps more companies should focus on educating their interns as opposed to hiring them to do work that no one else wants to do. This way, student interns could gain valuable experience they wouldn’t have the chance to get otherwise. That is the real compensation.

This weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News editorial board and is written by the Managing Editor, Kaitlin MacRae.

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