OPINION: Internships should not come at a personal cost.

We’ve written about internships before. The good, the bad, the satirical covering what you need to know and whether or not they’re exploitation. Half the team here at BULLSH!T have undergone unpaid internships at some stage or another. In fact if you’re a school leaver, currently studying at university or a graduate, it’s pretty common ground now – undertake an internship, gain experience and hopefully work your way up the corporate ladder.

Considering the number of internships are on the rise, the debate about internships grows stronger. Are they mutually beneficial or downright exploitation? There may not be a right or wrong answer. But through interning and working with various media companies over the years I’ve come to my own conclusion on the matter: If you undertake an internship, it should not have to come at any personal cost to you. 

It’s my firm belief there should be some type of allowance that a company gives interns. Companies covering interns cost for transport is a necessary start. If a company can’t provide $10 per day that their intern works to cover their bus or train ticket, then they should really be evaluating why they need an intern at all.

reality of an internship

I once worked out that in my time as an intern I spent over $1200 on travel expenses alone – and that doesn’t begin to cover the cost of buying lunches, coffees or  appropriate ‘office’ style clothes to wear. When you’re on a student budget, that $1200 is a lot of money. Hell, even if you aren’t a student it’s still a lot. I was lucky enough to be financially covered through working and youth allowance to budget this into my life, but a lot of people aren’t.

Were my internships beneficial to me? Some were, some weren’t. But if the benefit of hindsight has taught me anything, it’s that after three months unpaid work is bordering on exploitation. A company should generally know after three months if you have any sort of future with them, and if you don’t they should write you a reference and you should go on your merry way. You’ve gained the experience, in that time you’ve learned everything you needed to know, and there’s no point spending more money to keep working for free.

I interned and worked for a high-profile website that has a high rotation of interns. I stayed interning for nine months, and was offered a 3-month working contract around the 7-8 month mark. I was thrilled that my internship had paid off. The day I was meant to start, they told me the job wasn’t there any more. Zilch. Gone. Disappeared into thin air. So while the first 3 months I do consider beneficial, looking back, the next six months were a waste of my time and my money – while I enjoyed the work, I had learned everything I needed to know in my first three months and obviously there was going to be no future there for me. It may have started mutually beneficial, but it did end being more beneficial to them than it was to me.

When you look at the cost of transport, coffees, lunches and the fact many people will buy office appropriate attire, internships come at a greater cost to the intern than to the company – therefore it’s bullshit that it ends up being mutually beneficial. Not to mention many young people may have to N/A their jobs for a day or two, also resulting in another loss of finances.

What could solve this? Well the least that could be done is that companies cover the transport costs for the intern. Most people I know that interned would have been satisfied with even a free coffee for the day.

Interns aren’t asking too much – and our generation is now resigned to the fact that we’ll have to work for free at some stage whether it be for the ‘experience’ or the ‘once in a lifetime opportunity!’ But I think it’s time companies (especially those of the larger scale) start considering what mutually beneficial really means. Because an intern being grossly out of pocket to gain experience isn’t mutually beneficial – that is exploitation.

Words by TAHLIA PRITCHARD.

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Feature image care of Debating Europe.

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