Internships are an important part of any college education. They allow students to test out their skills and to dip their toes into their future careers. It can help to confirm interest in one field. Or, it can help to redirect interest to a new field.
During my four years in college, I was fortunate to have completed four summer internships. For two summers, I worked as an engineer for General Motors. For one, I worked at Westinghouse. And, for one semester, I taught photography at a Boys and Girls Club.
Each experience was valuable in its own way. They helped me to learn what I liked and didn’t like about companies. They helped me to learn what I was good at and they built up my resume so that I could compete for better jobs when I graduated.
As an engineering student, internships are paid. Not only did I receive a respectable salary, but I also received relocation to Detroit and Pittsburgh.
When I moved on to business school, I wasn’t so lucky. While studying for my MBA, many of my classmates opted to take unpaid internships. I was shocked to know that this was even an option. But the market was competitive so in order to get any internship, students had to be willing to work for free.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do this. I put myself through graduate school and I could not afford to work for months on end for free, while also living in Los Angeles. Instead of taking an internship, I opted to graduate early. Although things worked out, I do believe I would have benefitted greatly from an internship as I was transitioning from engineering into the business world.
This brings up a timely issue. If internships are an important part of any college education, why should they be unpaid? Sure, the company is helping to give the student an experience — they’re teaching them things — but the students are also giving something in return. And, is it really right that students who cannot afford to work for free may be at a disadvantage when competing for jobs post-graduation?
Although internships have been significantly cut due to COVID, there is one bright spot. Most internships are virtual. This means that a student does not have to have the money to relocate to the city where the internship is. And, they can work for companies anywhere. So, despite that internships may be unpaid, the new virtual reality we’re all working in is helping to level the playing field.
If you’re thinking of hiring an intern, there’s no better time. Internships aren’t just for the summer. But, keep this in mind: You don’t have to pay a college student much in order for them to survive. But, paying a little will allow that student who is making their own way to have a shot at your job, and their future.
Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.