The Garden Creative has been offering internships for the past several years and they are always paid positions. We offer mentorship and guidance, a chance to work on real projects and interaction with clients when possible. Interns are part of the team, and are not treated like peons.
Many other firms offer similar programs, but there is a growing trend in creative industries to offer unpaid internships that should either be paid, or even considered part or full time positions. It’s bad for students, bad for education and bad for the industry. It is also illegal. This practice takes advantage of students during a critical time in their professional development. Companies advertise an “invaluable educational experience,” when the reality is, interns are completing revenue-generating work with minimal, if any, oversight and mentorship. In the most egregious cases, unpaid interns outnumber paid staff. If a company relies on an unpaid workforce to turn a profit, that company should not be in business. Their argument and justification typically sounds like, “We offer students real-world experience, adding a resume item that will help launch their carriers.” While this could be true, it doesn’t warrant lack of pay. Others argue that just being in a creative environment is experience enough, even if they are in a closet filing all day. That one always makes me laugh, as if being around such greatness for a summer will somehow magically rub off. Ego in our industry runs rampant.
It gets even worse. Some places require unpaid interns to work off-site, mandating students own their own equipment and software. At this point, the intern is paying out-of-pocket for the privilege of being a revenue generator. That’s classy.
The department of labor has a strict set of guidelines regulating unpaid internships with a handy six-point checklist of what qualifies. In a nutshell, if interns are a benefit to the company, even minutely, they need to be compensated.
To be clear, not all unpaid internships are evil. Many years ago, I was an intern at Discovery Communications. While my internship was paid, they also offered an unpaid program. This program was truly an educational experience and had a dedicated staff to oversee it. Interns would follow a regimented plan and learned how the company and industry worked from the inside out. Interns shadowed employees, attended planned events, had an open platform for questions and left with a nice sendoff party.
Students are eager to land internships and are excited to garner experience. As an industry, we should be eager to mentor our future colleagues, not exploit them.