Free Internships Aren’t Evil!

Tim Sackett HR, Internships, Tim Sackett

You’ve probably already read the controversy created last week by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Organization when an ‘unpaid’ Intern position opening hit social media, calling for interested candidates to apply. Jessica Bennett, Lean In’s Editor/Producer, actually posted the opening to her personal Facebook page. Here’s the actual posts via Business Insider:

Lean In 1

and the follow up:

Lean In 2

People lost their collective minds!

How could any organization, let alone Sandberg’s Lean In, actually post an internship position for no pay!?  More from BI:

“unpaid internships are hugely controversial right now, and in some instances illegal. A judge ruled this year that interns on the movie “The Black Swan” should be compensated for their work. Unpaid interns at Conde Nast have also sued.

Non-profits may have a legal right to “hire” unpaid interns — and Lean In asserted that right yesterday — but this is about ethics: Unpaid internships contribute needlessly to economic inequality in the U.S.

The only people — women, in this case — who can afford to take unpaid internships are rich women, or women with rich parents, who don’t need to be paid. Poor women won’t be able to respond to the Lean In ad, no matter how much they want to support Sandberg’s program. And they are the very people who would most benefit from having Lean In on their resumes and perhaps a personal reference from Sandberg herself.”

Really?! Rich women or women with rich parents are the only ones able to respond to this opening?  That is probably a big stretch!

Here’s the reality:

– Almost all companies would love to have and offer paid internships.

– Paid internships cost actual money.

– Most companies don’t have the extra money to have paid internships.

So, how are kids/students supposed to get experience in organizations…?  It’s great that the masses want to rant and talk about fairness, but these same people are actually hurting the people who most need unpaid internships to gain relevant work experience. Organizations see the backlash, like what is happening to Lean In, and they runaway from their program to offer up opportunities for kids to volunteer their time to get some experience, unpaid. By doing this, we extend the current problem students are having upon graduation of not being able to get a job – because they lack experience.

The majority of companies offering unpaid opportunities for students are not evil!  They are trying to come up with a win-win situation for their organization and their community. That’s real life. But don’t tell that to the protesters who think they’re saving these kids by scaring companies away from offering any unpaid opportunities to intern! They truly feel like they are helping these kids. They’re not.

I got my undergrad degree in education. Part of getting your education degree is spending a full semester ‘student teaching’ at a real school. This is so new teachers graduate with experience.  You know how much the school paid me to student teach? Zero $$. In fact, I had to pay for a full credit load at the ‘non-profit’ university I was attending for this unpaid opportunity.  I did it gladly, because I knew it was a personal investment in my future career.

Our moral society has become so shortsighted in what is good and what is evil. I know there are some crappy companies who will take advantage of unpaid interns. Those companies are evil. Protest against them. The majority, however, are fueled by real HR Pros like you and I, just trying to give some kids an opportunity to gain some experience. To build their resume. To make connections. To become marketable to future employers (who will pay them based on their experience). But we don’t have money to pay. Our ‘compensation’ is experience and an excellence reference for the hard work performed. I’m sorry haters if that isn’t enough for you, but it’s what we can afford.