Are Unpaid Internships a Waste of Time? You’re Goddamn Right They Are

Let’s break it down.

I know what you’re thinking – Why is a serious, editorial article being posted on I like to keep things light hearted on this website, but that doesn’t mean that I can turn a blind eye to a global injustice that is overlooked by most, that I consider to be Certified Stupid.

If you’re attending a post secondary institution, most College programs, and some University programs, require that you complete some sort of work placement of Co-op. Unfortunately, most of these Co-ops, or Internships, as they are more popularly known, are unpaid. The exception to this rule is for Engineering students, who often have to be paid in order to receive their Co-op credit. For aspiring journalists, filmmakers, television personalities, and other fields of media, if you ask for a paid Co-op, you’ll get laughed at and escorted out by security.

When employers are asked why they don’t pay their interns, they might state that an Internship isn’t a job, it’s an opportunity for real world experience, despite the fact that you have to spend 40+ hours a week working.

I use the term working loosely, because during most internships you’re asked to do the bitch work that nobody else in the office wants to do.

Statisically, unpaid internships provide little to no benefit when seeking full time employment


That being said, getting your first experience in the real world as a student either in College, or fresh out of school waving your diploma in the air is exciting! You get to work in your chosen field, with industry professionals, establishing connections and you have a carrot dangled in front of your face that suggests you might get offered a job at the end of your placement.

Sadly, only 37% of students who worked unpaid internships were offered employment. If that seems like an impressive number, you should know that 36% of students without an internship at all were offered jobs in their career field. Statistically, working an unpaid internship gives you a 1% greater chance to get a job, than someone who didn’t put in any grunt work at all. Conversely, 60% of paid interns get offered jobs.

Suddenly that 40 hour a week unpaid Internship for 3 months doesn’t seem like that big of an edge, does it?

Now, the job market is competitive, we all know that, and unpaid Internships don’t really provide an advantage on a resume; what could this possibly lead to?

Interns work too hard to impress employers


Think of it this way – if you are working for a company that isn’t paying you, you are going to really want to ‘wow’ them if you ever want them to send a salary your way. If you give them 100% for $0, maybe if you give them 110% they’ll send a few bucks your way, right?

Wrong. Working too hard to make an impression might just lead to the end of your life.

After a quick Google search, you will find stories of Interns that passed away, rather preventably, because companies were forcing them to work too hard. Here are a few examples:

An Intern at the Bank of America died in the shower, and although he was working a paid internship, the company refused to comment on whether or not interns were working more than 12 hours a day. Another intern for the Bank of America added that typically, they would work 15 hours a day. Can you imagine getting to work for 9AM, and getting home after midnight just because you’re eager to start your career? You’re the new guy, and you need to be hazed

Another Intern died in a car crash when he fell asleep behind the wheel, after working long hours. He needed to complete 4 months of an unpaid internship, but was also working shifts, at the company that was giving him an internship, that were paid. Local labour laws allowed the company cough Astral Media cough to schedule him for regular working hours on top of what he needed for his internship.

The working conditions for interns isn’t that bad though, right? It’s not like companies can disregard an interns civil rights, right?

Unpaid Interns are not ‘Employee’s Therefore they are NOT Protected from Sexual Harassment


Since interns are often unpaid, and don’t receive a pension plan, life insurance, or any other perk of working for a company, they aren’t technically employees. As a result, they aren’t entitled to employee protections.

A case from last year was brought to this issue after an intern was groped by her boss who was making sexual advances towards her. She filed a sexual harassment claim, but the claim was rejected because the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that because she wasn’t an employee, the claim couldn’t fall under New York City Human Rights Law. She was allowed to press charges against her employer, but she wasn’t able to receive any sort of worker’s compensation, which a regular employee would be entitled to.

Of course, this is just one of the many ‘perks’ of taking an internship. So, what are the other perks?

If you can’t afford an Internship, you don’t get to experience one!

man showing his empty pocket, no money

In order to take an internship, you need to be able to sacrifice 40+ hours a week, without pay. Essentially, you’re left with evening and weekends to try and earn a wage that you can live off of. Often, nobody can live off of this lifestyle on their own. Interns need some sort of financial back bone, someone they can lean on to help them get started in the working world.

Furthermore, depending on the area of the world you live in, Interns are sacrificing thousands of dollars working for free, when they could be working for minimum wage. This is known as opportunity cost, where Interns value real world work experience more than the money they would be making if they were working for minimum wage

cough Approximately $1760 a month depending on where you are from cough

Relying on Internships in the work place doesn’t sound like a great way to build your countries economy, eh?

Spoiler alert: It’s not.

Puzzled male shrugging wearing lab coat

In order to bang out all of these reasons as fast as possible, we’re just going to bullet points because they’re easy to read, and they also look really cool.

  • Post Secondary education is expensive. If students are spending all of their time working, there is a good chance that they are going to end up farther and farther in debt. This debt has already wrecked the US economy, partially due to the fact that students can’t afford to move out.
  • Internships are the new entry level position...minus pretty much every benefit that comes with an entry level position. Instead of hiring someone and paying them >$30,000 a year to do the ‘easy’ work around the office, companies can now just hire an intern to get it for free. When the student has finished their placement, the company can hire a new intern to do the easy work all over again. By taking away away jobs from potential employees, people that can’t find jobs are left working temporary jobs, or unemployed. Sadly, the number of people working temp jobs is on the rise. With the unsteady pay that comes with a temp job, people are more cautious with their money, which leads to less buying and selling, blah blah blah basic economics.
  •  Over 300,000 unpaid Interns are forfeiting tens of millions of dollars in wages, vacation pay, and contributions to Employment Insurance and Canadian Pension Plan
  • Bullet Points can be fun when utilized improperly.

So who benefits from internships?

greed avarice dollars

Employers, basically. They get an eager employee to work for as long as you want them to, with no rules or regulations attached…completely for free. What’s not to like?

Initially, interns were actually useful, and not paying them was justified. Back in the old days of during the early 20th Century, interns were more like apprentices, and they worked hard to earn their spot in a trade profession. Mechanics, plumbers, electricians, jobs like that. Since education for those fields was lacking, and in those fields you really do learn more working with professionals than you do in a classroom, interns were mutually beneficial.

Eventually, other careers started taking in interns for the sake of free labour, still boasting the fact that interns would learn so much and definitely not just fetch coffee. 

Is there a silver lining? 

It depends where you live! But mostly, yes, there is a silver lining. Every few months or so, another company is sued, or harassed by people claiming that they need to pay their interns, and the Canadian Government is starting to put pressure on employers. Some States in America are also putting pressure on employers.

Here are some exciting examples:

Remember, every decision a judge makes can be overturned, but can also be set as a precedent for other cases regarding Internships. And with popular opinion leaning towards unpaid Internships being a ludicrous concept, maybe we’ll see a day where all Internships must be paid. That’d be nice.

What I’m Asking


If you own any sort of company, or responsible for hiring Internships, developing an Intern program, or even work at a company that hires Interns, please try and offer paid Internship positions.

Sure, you’re company will spend a little more money paying someone, but then you can expect higher quality work out of them, and people who may have great work ethic, but can’t afford to work for free, will apply for your Internship opportunity.

It’s common courtesy, especially if your Intern has to commute a long distance in order to make it into the office. I’m not saying shower them with dollar bills, but at the very least offer them a Stipend, something to compensate for the fact that they are dedicating majority of their time to your company.

If you don’t start offering paid Internships, your company may be behind the social trend, instead of leading it, which can leave people with a bad taste in their mouth when they talk about you.

Do you want to be known as a generous company who compensates students for hard work; or do you want to be known as a company that dragged their feet and were reluctant to start paying their workers.

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