Having relevant work experience is now a must on any student’s CV. The debate surrounding internships is heating up, to be paid or not to be paid, that is the question. Many companies only offer voluntary positions for students, but is it worth the hassle without reaping the pay?
Paige, a 2nd year said it was “cheeky” and “manipulative” to ask students to volunteer their time and skills without receiving any form of pay. This appeared to be the consensus across the board, many students saying a flat out “no” to unpaid work, unless it provided experience beneficial to their future career path and they had no other option. Another UEA undergraduate called Emily told me that she would love to gain some relevant experience but couldn’t afford not to be paid so would chose to work for pay, no matter if the job was relevant to her career or not.
Raymond Marlborough from Careers Central told me that all the internships they advertise are paid and all pay at least Minimum Wage, in fact they often advise employers to pay more. Raymond’s thoughts on unpaid internships were that they could lead to “useful paths” but also puts “more strain on what you are doing”, further highlighting that unpaid internships sometimes aren’t worth the hassle.
The “illusive” paid internship is difficult to get your hands on. Paid internships relevant to future careers are also very difficult to secure. Many of those I interviewed said that the process in securing their internship meant to first share their CV and almost always required an interview. Interns go through the same application process as other employees do. A 2nd year named Shauni argued “you’d expect to be paid by an employer so why would an internship be different?”. The difference between the treatment of normal employees and student interns seems to vary company to company. The process to becoming a paid intern is often long winded and taxing, taking a month or two from submitting your application to receiving confirmation of your employment. The stress of a long application appeared to be worth it for every interviewee, for the work experience but above all the pay. After all we are students and have very little income to live off.
The effect that the internship has on you is also important. Some phrases that frequently popped up were that students felt “valued”, “respected” and “treated equal” when they were paid for their effort and time, leading to the putting more effort into their work. Being unpaid seemed to have the opposite effect on students wellbeing, leading to the use of “slave interns” as a description to students being unpaid. It’s clear that students prioritise pay and relevant experience over unpaid internships.