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While we appreciate that some businesses may take advantage of the opportunity to "hire" interns, and wrongfully neglect to educate them while benefiting from their free labor, a true internship should remain unpaid. An internship and a job are two different things.
Interns work for employers during the school year and for school credit. While receiving credit for hours toward education, there is no reason that employer must pay interns. Students don't get paid for taking any other class. An internship is a required class in many professional and graduate programs.
Many professions require a specified number of hours of on the job training before licensure. The American Psychological Association is just one example; a Ph.D. in psychology is not enough to earn a license to practice. Practicing psychologists have also completed internships in which they received valuable tutelage that could not be attained any other way. Students can't learn everything in the classroom; shadowing a psychologist, doctor, or other professional gives the student unique and necessary experience. This experience is required for licensure.
Internships are not just about receiving job training. Employers of interns go out of their way to take the time to educate interns. Employers expend more time and effort training interns than they do entry-level employees. This is a key difference between an intern and an entry-level employee. Interns are students.
The expectations that an employer places on the shoulders of interns are different than those placed on the shoulders of employees. Interns are expected to be learning the ropes for the first time. They are expected to ask a myriad of questions, and there is room for these interns to make mistakes and not suffer repercussions.
Employees who are being paid should not be making the mistakes that a student may be expected to make. When interns make mistakes, the employer discusses with them at length the situation, why it was a mistake, what would be a better choice, and helps educate the intern. When employees make mistakes, they may get fired.
Having the responsibility of training an intern requires additional time and effort on the employer's part to fill out necessary paperwork. More than just filling out forms, employers draft thoughtful evaluations of the student's performance and improvement over time. These evaluations are submitted to the intern's college or university.
Employers who are putting this much time and energy into training interns and helping to create tomorrow's professionals can not reasonably afford to pay them on top of the investment they are making. Time is money. Employers should not required to pay students to learn.
If we require that all interns receive pay, we may see the decline of available internships. This will create greater competition among aspiring professionals, and mean that less people will have the opportunity to achieve their goals.
Education, including internships, should be readily available to those who wish to learn and become educated.
Read another take on this question: Opinion - Internships Should Be Paid.
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