Thursday, April 15, 2010

Unpaid Internships: Free Markets Rule or Employers, Get Real

Last week, on the heels of an important article in the NY Times about unpaid internships, we wrote a blog post that tackled some of the meaty issues surrounding this trend. We talked about the importance of providing mentorship and learning opportunities for interns, encouraged employers to be realistic about their needs and hire accordingly. We received a lot of great responses and comments to the post, many from folks who though that in all instances, interns deserve to be paid.

However, after looking at this month's Trend and Insight Report and noting that the percentage of unpaid internships rose in March, we find ourselves wondering if this sentiment is really widespread when it comes to unpaid interns, or is it the perspective of a vocal minority?

Hey, we don't place judgment. We think there's huge value in both paid and unpaid positions and think that there's room in the employment universe for both. It just struck us as a notable comparison that at the same time there's buzz about unpaid positions, the stats indicate these are exactly the kind of hires employers want to make.

What does this mean? Well, it could mean a couple of things.

For one, it could indicate that employers are truly willing to provide valuable skills and training in exchange for some free labor. And given the tough economy, this bargain seems acceptable to job seekers. Taken a step further, this would indicate that the discussion around the "unfairness" of unpaid internships is almost without merit if there's a healthy quid pro quo in the relationship (extreme situations aside). If, as an employer, you don't keep an unpaid position interesting, good luck to you in retaining talent. In other words, the free market will regulate the worth of unpaid positions.

Alternatively, it could mean that employers don't have realistic expectations about what would make someone want to work for free. We know-- you're an awesome startup. You have great founders, tons of energy and can provide a real opportunity to gain hands on experience. Same is true for us, and probably most of the people reading this post. But that still doesn't mean someone is going to want to make 500 sales calls a day for free. And why should they, unless you're dedicated to teaching that intern how to be the BEST salesperson that ever lived.

So which is it-- free markets rule or employers, get real? You tell us.

1 comment:

  1. The whole unpaid thing is tough to figure out. If a person is doing work that is truly valuable to the business, like sales calls - resulting in actual revenue, or, let's say, designing layouts on website pages - resulting in attracting new customers, they should be paid, and paid an amount that has some relationship to how much revenue they are bringing in. If they're _not_ doing very valuable work, then it's hard to imagine "the free market" taking care of this, because why would anyone stuff envelopes or sweep stalls for free? If the point of interning is to gain valuable skill but not necessarily be part of the permanent business structure, then you're talking about mentoring and education, and internships done in conjunction with colleges or vocational schools - with them keeping an eye on what kind of work is being done - is the most transparent and has the most integrity.