Full-time jobs are hard to find in this economy, but one sector of workers that have thrived since the downturn are those willing to work for free. Unpaid internships, which promise to give college students or those just entering the job market experience and a foot in the door at their chosen company, have become more popular. But do these unpaid positions really benefit the workers who accept them — or are they a way for companies to save money by exploiting unpaid positions?
NPR delved into the world of unpaid interns with Alex Footman, who worked as an intern on the multi-million dollar film Black Swan. Footman was disappointed with the internship, stating, “It was not a learning experience and that was what I had expected. This really just seemed like I was just working and wasn’t getting paid for it.”
Footman and another unpaid intern are suing Fox Searchlight Pictures, the film’s producer, for restitution for the hours they spent working on the film. They also want to make sure that the company will not be able to hire unpaid interns in the future.
Technically, many unpaid internships may be illegal. The Supreme Court ruled more than 50 years ago that only work done for training purposes could go unpaid. But many companies offer unpaid internships just as a chance for workers to gain experience in their chosen industry.
Is the time and effort involved in an unpaid internship worth it? It depends. Some industries that are more difficult to break into, such as film and publishing, view an internship as a nearly indispensable part of the career track. But to accept multiple unpaid internships instead of pursuing a paid position is one trap that many young people fall into, and that could hurt them in the long run.
I will start my first unpaid internship at a small publisher in Naperville, Illinois next week. Whether or not it will prove to be a worthwhile experience remains to be seen.
Photo credit: Travis Isaacs