The value of unpaid internships

Despite lacking deserved financial compensation, unpaid internships have a lot to offer young people. 

Even though employers should provide some sort of pay for those who provide services for them, it’s misguided to think unpaid internships are entirely without value. The risk of assuming financial uncertainty doesn’t necessarily outweigh the benefits of on-the-job training. 

With an increasingly depressed labour market, young students have become susceptible to accepting experience over compensation when looking for job prospects. The advantages to gaining tangible work experience — albeit without pay — are often ignored in favour of focusing on the perils of free labour.  

Unpaid internships are investments in your future — and that idea shouldn’t be something students are unfamiliar with.   

At Queen’s, students typically pay yearly tuition fees of over $7,000. Enrolling in post-secondary education is a pricey investment made in hopes of becoming an attractive employee. An unpaid internship is free of charge and requires only your time. 

During an undergraduate degree, students invest in themselves by paying for an education. They work hard, but there’s no pay to compensate for their time and work. The same applies to some graduate programs where, barring paid teaching assistant positions or placement opportunities, students willingly dig themselves into pits of debt. 

Both are reasonable avenues by which young people can build their careers, but one is socially accepted while the other is a topic of contention. 

The thread which ties the two and which keeps people committed to paying for education, is an understanding that the time and money put in will eventually be compensated. This same thought process should be applied to unpaid internships and their potential benefits. 

This isn’t to say that the problems associated with free labour aren’t substantial or legitimate — working without pay has in many regards exploited a young and vulnerable workforce. But it’s imperative to recognize the value that hands-on training and how it plays into a person’s professional growth. 

Building a career takes sacrifice. Unpaid internships don’t leave workers with nothing. To accept an internship without pay is a gamble, but it’s one with the potential to help you succeed. 

Sebastian is The Journal’s Sports Editor. He’s a fourth-year Philosophy Major.

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