The job market continues to make its slow recovery, but finding employment even after college is still a challenge. Many college students hope having an internship on their resume will give them the extra edge they need to land a coveted job. According to a recent CNBC.com article, the benefits and differences between paid, unpaid, and no internship are becoming clearer as the job market improves.
Benefits of Internships
Internships of any kind are thought to significantly improve a recent graduate’s employment prospects. Internships provide on-the-job training, exposure to the industry and business practices, networking opportunities, and resume content. Depending on the industry, interns have the opportunity to take part in some or all of a business process or project. This provides interns experience, and provides employers with a less expensive means of training and evaluating potential employees. Paid internships obviously have the added benefit of paying the intern for work done. Payment also appears to dramatically alter the expectations and experiences for both the employer and the intern.
The CNBC.com article claims a recent study found paid internships to be the most beneficial internship for college students hoping to be hired prior to graduation, with 63 percent of paid internships leading to employment. Additionally, the starting salaries of former paid interns is significantly higher than the salaries of individuals who either were unpaid interns, or did not intern at all. One potential reason for these differences, according to the article, is that employers and employees have greater expectations from paid internships. Employers tend to expect more from paid interns since they are paying for their time and efforts. This leads employers to provide those interns with greater and more significant work than their unpaid counterparts.
Furthermore, a number of court rulings place paid interns in a different category than unpaid interns. Paid interns, in the courts view, are employees, and thus subject to all applicable employment laws. Unpaid interns, however, are not employees, which puts them at a disadvantage beyond working essentially for free.
While unpaid internships technically mean working for free, Washington’s guidelines for unpaid internships clearly highlight the learning aspect of the experience. Under Washington state law, in
order to provide an unpaid internship, the intern cannot take a position that would ordinarily go to a paid employee. Additionally, the activities the intern performs must be similar to those learned in an educational setting, which do not include filing or menial labor. Unfortunately, court rulings that unpaid interns are not employees potentially put these interns at greater risk of facing harassment, discrimination, and hostile work environments. Furthermore, the article notes that about 37 percent of unpaid interns do gain employment from their internship, only slightly more than those who do not intern at all. These statistics do not suggest unpaid interns do not gain valuable experience and knowledge from their experiences, but the numbers may change the
appeal of working for free.
If you believe your employment rights have been violated in your paid internship, an experience Washington employment law attorney can help.