The Great Intern Debate

Posted by Trustev editor on July 3, 2013

Trustev currently has two fantastic guys working with us as part of their college placement programmes. Michael Linehan and David Devane. While they refer to themselves as ‘interns’ they’ve been given full time, paying roles as a Junior Project Manager and Junior Developer, with all the responsibilities and training those roles demand.

To prove that we’re not just keeping them chained in the basement, every week they’ve been encouraged to write a blog post about any topic they want.

The age old argument of paid vs. unpaid internships is a can of worms which is best not opened by someone who is currently on an internship, but in a way I suppose it puts me in one of the best positions possible to argue the case of the student. Many undergraduates and even graduates see internships as a great opportunity, which of course they are. Work placement is mandatory in BIS, and I can honestly say that I have lucked out by securing mine with Trustev. The culture here is great, the work is both exciting and challenging, I am being paid very well and the work hours are great. For someone in my shoes, life as an intern would seem pretty peachy, but this is not the case for all interns. Unfortunately internships also provide the opportunity for employers to take advantage of free work at the expense of the student, and often many do.

Employers who choose not to pay their interns will forever argue that taking on an intern actually costs them money, which is true, it does. As soon as one of us spotty-faced students take a seat at the desk, your employer will be required to pay insurance and also expend a great deal of time and resources to train you up in the knowledge and skills you need to be able to perform your job efficiently. They will also argue that they are providing you with a unique opportunity to develop your skills, gain experience and make yourself more employable in the future. Once again I am not arguing with this, I honestly think I have gained more in my internship at Trustev in 3 months than I have at 3 years in college. However when deciding whether or not to pay their interns, there needs to be a paradigm-shift in the way employers weigh up the pros and cons.

I am of the opinion that internships, even the paid ones are mutually beneficial to both the student and the employer. The employer gets a student, untainted by the working world, which they can mould to suit a particular way of working and thinking (As much as it might sound like it, I’m not advocating internships as an opportunity to brainwash students). Where the employer is spending money on insurance and training, they are also potentially saving both time and money on the recruitment process. At the end of a six month placement, your employer will be able to see what skills you are able to bring to the table and if they are happy with you they can bypass endless hours of reviewing CVs from potential candidates, narrowing this down to interview candidates, interviewing these candidates and then spending even more time selecting the successful candidate based on the interview process. Even if this lengthy process has been carried out with the strictest of criteria, there is still no guarantee that the employer will choose the right person for the job. More often than not it may be the person who is best able to market themselves and act in a certain way.

I believe that employers should view internships more like a probationary period of employment, from which they can potentially gain an employee who by the end of this period, is already performing at a level that is making the company money. Not only this, but they will have an employee who is happy in their job and highly motivated, both because of the payment they are receiving and the opportunity to secure a permanent position. With this opportunity available to employers, it is unethical for those who can afford it, not to pay their interns. In many College Courses work placement is mandatory to reach the required learning outcomes and if a student cannot secure a paid placement, they must unfortunately work for free. If I had not been lucky enough to secure my 6 months at Trustev, I would have had to find a 3 month unpaid placement and realistically, I wasn’t going to be able to keep on my part-time job that I had throughout the college year because of the extra hours. Money is tight enough as it is in my house, so I can say with all certainty that working for free for 3 months simply would not have been feasible for me or my parents.

Many students are in this unlucky position of not getting paid for doing a full week’s work and also foregoing the part-time job that they already have as a result of the pressure put on them by the colleges to meet the required credits to pass the year. As part of my role on the CIT Students Union Executive this year I plan on introducing policies to ensure that no student should have to face this dilemma. The policy will outline specific guidelines that employers must follow before they take on a student from CIT. While I obviously can’t force employers to pay students a fair wage, one of the requirements that I plan to introduce is a minimum travel / food allowance to be covered by the employer, so that at the very least it does not cost students and their families money that they don’t have to benefit from the single most important experience they will receive throughout their entire education.

Michael Linehan is a 3rd year Business Information Systems student at CIT, carrying out his work placement at Trustev. He does a pretty good job there which is why he's paid the big bucks.