The Worm Has Turned: Paying for Internships in America

Rcommentary2.gifecently, I’ve seen press reports and heard my students discuss paid internships.
That’s not that unusual. At our advertising/pr company we pay interns and always have.

Oh, wait a minute. My students are talking about PAYING for internships. I’ve seen the stories and heard first-hand that some companies – many through a broker setup – are requiring students to pay for that all-too-important internship experience.

In some cases, it’s a fee of between $5,000 and $10,000 payable by each student. This may include housing, a job and some meals.

What a deal!

While we sit here thinking it’s good to pay students for an equitable arrangement, cash-strapped firms are reversing the roles and getting paid for the positions. But how will that change impact the student and the company?

Interestingly, to me, it puts a big burden on the employer. Think about it. I can envision students suing their host company for not delivering on the promise.

“Well, judge, I paid $10,000 and I was forced to make coffee and run errands to the printing company.”

The burden of responsibility for fulfilling the contract promise lies with the employer. This may forever change the intern/supervisor dynamic that has worked well for a long time.

When you accept payment for something, you’d better deliver the goods or services. While $10,000 may seem small to a corporate giant, it’s a lot of cash for a student to spend to get a foot in the door or networking opportunity.

In one television news report I watched, a paying intern suggested she wasn’t getting all that much hands-on experience, but the social aspects of the office and the networking was great. That seems like an expensive date to me.

The recession and ensuing tight job market have changed things. Today, students are placed into a highly competitive and sparse job market and a bona-fide internship can make all the difference in securing a full-time slot.

Now it appears that experience may come with a big price tag.

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