Why Interns Must Be Paid

They're prepared, work hard and not paying them can cost you.



What’s the difference between an internship and a “real job?” While most college students are willing to go to great lengths to get some hands-on experience in their desired field, the businesses employing them need to be fairly compensating their efforts to make sure both the student and the company are getting the most out of the experience. With the recent headlines about companies terminating or reevaluating their internship programs based on student-filed lawsuits, it’s clear that students are starting to question the worth of their work.

Students today are coming into organizations prepared for the expectations of internships. They’ve done their research and are ready to make valuable contributions. So why do some companies have interns work on an unpaid basis? By not paying your interns you’ve lowered the bar in terms of what you expect from them. Plus, internship programs should be 50/50. It’s a give and take.

There are, however, some companies that just get it. They don’t give interns menial tasks and they value the work they’re producing. For example, they provide their interns with the knowledge needed to get a block of code written or an image designed so that when it comes down to producing valuable content that the company needs, the student can confidently accomplish the task and proudly display their work once it’s complete. This is how an ideal internship should function. Mentors who actually want the task of coaching an intern should work closely enough with them so that they’re able to get a grasp on the company culture, get the tools and necessary knowledge to be successful and have the freedom to independently manage their own time.

The goal of an internship is to be prepared for the “real world”. It should be as similar to the real thing as possible so that graduates can be more aware and prepared for any career path they choose to pursue. That being said, a real job is a paid job. Salary is a substantial thing to consider when applying for jobs and college students should have an idea of what their work is worth. An adequately paid intern feels that their employer values them. They will walk away with the understanding of what it means to work hard and be rewarded accordingly. I don’t think any company would say that the content they produce is worth nothing or even merely worth minimum wage, so it’s important to pay interns based on the worth of their work. All tasks are for the greater good of the company. Everyone’s contributions, no matter how small they may seem, are valuable.

Good businesses are always going to have students eagerly lining up at the door to try their hand at a corporate position or coveted spot. These prospective employees are ready and willing to learn, grow and produce. The company provides the intern with the knowledge needed to construct excellent work, which in turn, allows the intern to produce work with their fresh perspective. Education and experience are without a doubt valuable. But there’s also value in reimbursing someone for their accomplishments so they don’t feel as though they’re just another cog in the wheel. Simply put, if a company can afford to pay their interns, they should. Expect good work and compensate fairly for it.

Sean Cohen is chief operating officer at AWeber, an email marketing service provider in Chalfont, Pa. He oversees the activities of all teams and directors, collaborates with the CEO on strategic goals and advocates AWeber’s core values throughout company initiatives. His role includes operations oversight, human resources and execution of strategic initiatives.