October 23, 2009

Interns - If You Use Them, PAY Them...

It's been nearly two months since I have posted something, and for some reason, I haven't been that upset about it. I've actually been enjoying sitting back and reading others' thoughts, just taking it all in.

However, in reading something today at lunch, I felt compelled to write a post about a topic about which I have a lot of passion - internships. Specifically, paid vs. unpaid internships.

I was reading a post by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on his blog, and it almost made my blood boil... Cuban is frustrated that he can't hire a bunch of unpaid interns to produce videos, compile statistics, etc. that could then be distributed widely to news outlets and bloggers across the world. I actually like the idea he has here in terms of developing the content and providing it to people, but I REALLY don't like how he was trying to make it happen.

Personally, I believe interns should ALWAYS be paid, even if they're getting college credit for their internship. Why? It's simple. If someone that you decide to hire (whether they're an intern or an employee) is doing work that is benefiting the organization, they deserve to be paid for the work they're doing.

Many times, interns are college students who are taking a summer to get experience leading up to a career in a chosen field. They're dedicating their summer to working for your organization/company, building their skills for their future, and foregoing the opportunity to have another job to make money for their upcoming school year. They're dedicating themselves to you and working hard to make sure they're getting the best experience (and a good reference), thus helping your organization succeed. Yet, all too often, companies and organizations don't pay these people. It's just wrong.

A couple other observations: how engaged can someone really be at work if they know they're not getting paid? How happy can they be? How much real productivity can you expect from someone who's not getting paid? Imagine that you had to go to your office for a full week and knew you weren't getting paid anything. Would you put as much effort into your job that week? Now, imagine 12 weeks of 40 hour work weeks not getting paid, but being expected to work hard and benefit the company/organization... Yeah, not real appealing is it?

You want the people who are interning for you to be inspired to do good work, right? You want them to enjoy coming in and feel as though they're having a positive experience, right? Then pay them.

Relating this back to associations, I know many non-profits and associations don't have a lot of excess money lying around to pay interns. I get it. However, I also get that there usually is enough to pay them something, even if it's a monthly stipend for their housing and meals... Do something for these people who are dedicating themselves to making your organization better for 12 weeks. Be an advocate for them. They deserve it.

So, no matter whether you're like Mark Cuban and have a lot of money, or are a small association and don't have much at all, I urge you to think about the interns you're hiring and how you'd feel working for nothing for 12 weeks...

Ok, my blood is back to a simmer, so I'm done.


Susan J. Ellis said...

While your post is provocative and makes some good points about times that interns may be exploited, it also totally negates ALL volunteering! Two quotes illuminate that:

"If someone that you decide to hire...is doing work that is benefiting the organization, they deserve to be paid for the work they're doing."
"how engaged can someone really be at work if they know they're not getting paid?"

The cost of something or the financial remuneration for it have nothing to do with its *value*-- whether to the organization or to the giver of time. There aremany critical reasons why both paid work and volunteering are important. For example, nonprofit boards are unpaid so that they can provide unself-interested oversight. Volunteers have perceived credibility with the public, donors and clients as advocates, again because they are unpaid. Consider, for example, that paying someone to mentor a child simply makes that person a babysitter.

For the volunteer (or unpaid intern), the opportunity to serve without pay permits greater freedom to learn, experiment, and criticize. Here's one perspective on interns/volunteers your readers might find interesting: [http://www.energizeinc.com/hot/2004/04nov.html].

Don't throw out the baby with the bath here!

Bruce Hammond said...

Hi Susan-

I appreciate you reading the blog, and thank you for your comment.

I don't want there to be misunderstanding here about what I was trying to say. Interns and volunteers are two very different things in my eyes.

As I see it, interns are actually hired by a company or organization, while volunteers are not employees of a company or organization, but rather voluntarily seek out opportunities to provide value knowing they will not be paid. That's a critical distinction in my opinion.

What I was trying to get across, especially by the first quote you mention in your comment, is that if your company/organization decides to hire an intern to do a job, they should be paid. In most instances, they are college students who are trying to gain experience while still having tuition, loans, etc. to pay. If structured right, the internship should not only allow them to receive great experience, but they are providing great value through their hours at the office doing a job.

I certainly don't disagree with you that volunteers play a very significant part in the success of organizations/associations. As a non-profit practitioner, I love the effort our organization's volunteers give to us. They're great. As you mention, they provide a great value to organizations. However, they are not in an office working (in many cases 40 hours per week) as an intern usually is.

I guess as I said in my post, think about if you were asked to do a job like an intern sometimes is without being paid... It's not a good practice if you ask me. Again, thanks for reading.

David M. Patt, CAE said...

The argument is that interns should not be considered cheap labor - and that's what they often are seen as.

It is assumed that the experience they receive is valuable enough to take the place of income.

Unpaid interns frequently gravitate to cause-related groups that would never dream of paying them (or be able to afford to pay them)- and usually don't have jobs for them in the future.

They are viewed as volunteers or apprentices. Those who want money are expected to work in the private sector, where internships are often seen as entry level positions.

Maggie McGary said...

Great post--now you have my blood boiling too! Mark Cuban's whole rationale is crazy--we're not sure the content these people would create would make money so we can't pay them. I know what I'll be blogging about tonight!

I was never in a position to be an intern, but it's always struck me as unfair and misleading to the interns. I think David makes a really good point--that,while in the for-profit world maybe an internship is seen as an entry ramp into a company, I suspect when associations think intern they're thinking "free labor" not "potential employee." The whole premise of interning as an entree into a paid position doesn't make sense to me: you're puting your cards on the table ahead of time that you're in a position to work for free; why, then, would the company want to eventually pay you?

college internships said...
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