Debate: Should interns be paid?


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The Independent Online


What's going on?

As the number of unemployed young people in the UK teeters close to 1 million, many are being forced to take up unpaid internship positions in the hope of gaining permanent employment later on.

Even the foundation of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently advertised (unofficially) for an unpaid intern position.

But can companies reasonably ask young people to lean in so much they work for free?

Case for: It's an opportunity

Those who wail the loudest about having to work for free are most often the kind who can't bear the thought of putting their head down, making the best of whatever bad lot they've been thrown, and trying to leave after a few weeks with - at the very least - a better contacts-book and CV. Of course, some internships will be useless. If they are, leave. What's there to keep a young person working if they don't spy any advantage? Nothing. Yes, the job market is tough right now. But young people need to wake up and smell the bacon. This isn't uni any more. Take control.

Case against: Exploitation

Paying interns isn’t an optional generosity on the part of bosses, it’s intrinsic to a healthy economy. These days, on-the-job experience is an essential requirement for landing that first job in almost every industry. And with entry-level openings increasingly scarce, new recruits can expect to be interning for upwards of a year before they get their big breaks. Who can afford to do that for free? No pay for interns, means an effective bar to entry for candidates without wealthy parents and / or access to rent-free London accommodation.  This means not only individual tragedy for all those kids who have their ambitions thwarted, but an untapped bank of talent that’s lost to our economy forever.