Money, money, money: Do unpaid internships work?

Unpaid internships: a huge subject ‘trending’ in the PR world right now. Blog posts and comments are cropping up all over the internet about this and as a PR student and someone who has completed a number of internships, all unpaid, I feel like I should share my opinion on this.

Let’s face it, money is the main motivator for any job. You may love what you do, but the more money, the easier it seems to get out of bed in the morning. Fantastic as a theory, unpaid internships would seem to please everyone. PR students need experience for their CV, and companies need an extra pair of hands AND they don’t cost them anything. But the reality is different. Not being paid is a huge de-motivator, and you may begin to feel extremely undervalued. Whether you are a full-time employee or a placement student, you should never feel undervalued in your place of work.

Not only this, but it is a huge strain on you as a student. It is no secret that students struggle with money anyway, but having to pay out for transport and lunch when you wouldn’t normally have too is a huge strain on your bank account in the long run. In fact, there has been many great opportunities and internships I have had to decline just because they would not pay a salary or expenses and I simply did not have the funds. At one point I was paying £10 a day just in cab fares to get to and from an internship and soon enough my bank balance read £0.00 and, upon refusal of the company to help me with transport costs, I had to quit.

A huge issue in my year at University was the extreme pressure on us to complete work experience without having the money to do so. A lot of my peers had to get part-time jobs to pay our way through university, leaving them no time to have a placement (unless they wanted to seriously fall behind on our workload.) It became an apparent issue and nearly everyone I talked to about it agreed. Then we received a lot of grief about the lack of experience amongst our year. I know that, if our internships had been paid, a lot more people would have them.

I found myself sacrificing a lot of things just to ensure I had experience. I received the smallest loan and never received extra support from my parents financially so I had to make do with what I was given. It got to a point where my bank was completely empty due to finance costs to a placement, I had bare cupboards and I walked miles in snow and ice as I had no money for a taxi.

However, I am not saying I have never enjoyed an internship simply because it hasn’t been paid. That is not it at all, I have completed internships where I have thoroughly enjoyed myself, the whole team has been kind and welcoming and money has not been a huge issue.

Internships offer students valuable experience and have taught me some of lessons in PR which I will never forget. They most certainly prepared me for my year placement and I would not be where I am now without them. They are the most useful tool to any student out there, for any industry, and I will never discourage people to do it.

I do believe that all internships should pay travel expenses, as this is what I most struggled with and to me it seems a minor detail that everyone should adhere too.

What I don’t agree with though is exploitation of students and allowing them to feel undervalued. I do not agree with three month full-time internships not paying, this is a huge strain on anyones time and money and three months without a salary is tough for anyone. Having experienced it all first hand, I think the success rate of internships and the amount of students taking them would increase.

Posted in PR

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