Young people have been raising hell lately about unpaid internships — they think they amount to slave labour.
I have a different view.
Yes, there are legitimate tales of woe about employers abusing interns. Unpaid Intern Hell . . . CBC News headlined a story. Problem Of Unpaid Internships . . . Massive, Says Student Group, wrote the Toronto Star.
Some major corporations, including here in B.C., have gotten caught up in the controversy.
There’s all kinds of law around internships — in B.C., it’s legal not to pay students for “practicums” required for graduation, but illegal not to pay “interns” who’ve already graduated, unless they just stand around and watch. For the sake of discussion, let’s call them all interns because the distinction is often fuzzy.
I have much respect for the younger generation. Not quite as much as I did when I was in it, but a lot. I love seeing kids succeed.
These days, though, there’s a bigger sense of entitlement. Somewhere between Gen X and Gen Y, they’ve gone from expecting foosball machines in the lunchroom to surfing the Internet at their desks.
Work-life balance has taken on a whole new meaning. A newspaper cartoon got the issue about right. It showed a young candidate being interviewed for a job. Instead of handing the manager a resume, the kid was presenting a list of demands.
Right now you’re thinking, “I always figured that Armchair Mayor guy was a jerk. I’ll bet he was awful to work for.”
Here’s the truth: I don’t think employers should expect anyone to work for nothing. But if a smart young prospect comes in and says, “I know you aren’t hiring right now, but I need the experience to complete my practicum, so I’ll work for nothing for a few weeks and when you see how good I am maybe you’ll hire me some day or at least give me a good reference,” yeah, any boss who admires initiative would consider it.
By and large, interns come out of school with enthusiasm, a little bit of (sometimes dangerous) knowledge and no experience. A responsible manager hires interns and practicum students, with or without salary, for one reason only — to teach.
These kids aren’t (or shouldn’t be) for replacing paid workers or for backfilling employees who are on vacay. They aren’t for cleaning toilets or sending for coffee.
Here’s what interns are for. They’re for showing the ropes. They’re for offering a real-world chance. They’re an investment in the future.
Interns don’t make life easier in a business, they make it harder because on top of all the other things a manager must do, now he/she must teach some beginner who doesn’t know one end from the other.
Sometimes interns see it, sometimes they don’t. Some think “experience” is an employer’s dodge to take unfair advantage of the brilliance every 22-year-old brings from the classroom.
It’s not all bad. After all, a lot of baby boomers burned out on the old “work ethic” and died too soon. Millenials deserve fair treatment but, in return, they need to suck it up and keep in mind they are untried, untested, and likely as not, will be a pain in the ass — though hopefully a worthwhile one — to any employer willing to give them a chance.