After a number of the world’s leading publishing houses – including Condé Nast – scraped their internship programmes effective from January 2014 due to controversy over minimum wage debates, we ask, should interns be paid?
“No” Says Sarah Joan Ross, Style Director, Emirates Woman Group
“The payment an intern receives is in the whole experience, the body of work created and the expansion of their Rolodex”
An internship is a very valuable experience, gained usually in a highly competitive industry. In the short term, it can help graduates decide upon the correct career path for them, offer an insight into specific roles, generate contacts and also provide a portfolio of work to make the intern more employable in the future. In the publishing industry it is the norm to follow this path and it can usually result in the exciting and often elusive first job offer.
The payment an intern receives is in the whole experience, the body of work created and the expansion of their Rolodex. However, I don’t think people should be exploited – and the work experience should have a time limit and be beneficial to the individual. An intern is not there to fill the role of a paid employee, and the responsibilities and pressure should be managed. It is often more work for the company who employs an intern, as desk hours are dedicated to nurture the intern’s ideas and guide them in the working practice of the industry.
It should be considered as a further education tool to prepare young people in the skills needed for the real working world outside of the classroom. If a ban on unpaid internships were introduced it would be a disservice to the graduates of tomorrow, who gain an insider edge and wealth of experience in the short time they are with a company.
“Yes” says Sudeshna Ghosh, Editor, BBC Good Food Middle East
“If an intern is essentially performing the role of a staffer, it naturally suggests they should be compensated”
I think the controversy surrounding the paid/unpaid nature of internships arises from the broad base of work experience that the term ‘internship’ covers – from week-long shadowing exercises to valuable contributions to a media product that can last months. Not all internships are created equal, and therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all rule that applies to them.
As with most things, it depends on each individual involved – some interns are faster learners and have a natural talent that lead them to contribute valuably to the media product they are associated with, sooner than others. In these cases, if an intern is essentially performing the role of a staffer, it naturally suggests they should be compensated. For example, if an intern is performing work, which in some cases can be directly linked to commercial gains for the company (writing advertorials etc., for instance), the question of compensation is justified. Also, if the intern is having to bear expenses on the job, then some sort of payment is essential.
However, if an intern is essentially getting the opportunity to ‘learn on the job’ within a limited and pre-agreed time frame – as part of their training course – which culminates in a reference letter, a reputable brand name added to their resume, and networking opportunities, then non-payment or an expenses-only arrangement is acceptable (on no account should a young student be expected to bear work-related expenses out of pocket).
But all too often, young professionals, eager to work with a media brand they have long adored, continue to work for an indefinite periods, and in these cases they should most definitely be paid industry standard entry-level salaries. It is down to having terms clearly agreed upon before starting the internship, and in my opinion, should be moderated by the education institute the student is from. An internship can be a learning experience for only a certain amount of time – which is why they should be limited period only. Over time, anyone of average intelligence can master certain tasks and usually learns whatever they can in that position, and if they continue to perform those jobs well (which are often ones no one else wants to do), then it ceases to be an internship and becomes a junior staff role. It is this fine line that one needs to be conscious of, particularly when the term ‘intern’ is used so loosely, when debating this question.