Unpaid opportunities and requirements for college students, such as internships and student teaching, have long been normalized as stepping stones for students to enter the workforce and gain valuable experience. It’s important to acknowledge, however, the inherent classism within the idea of these unpaid “marketable” experiences.
While hours may vary, internships typically require about 10-20 hours per week during the school year, and 40 hours per week during the summer. Student teachers are held to the same standards as certified teachers, so they often spend 30-35 hours per week in their classrooms. Although these time commitments are comparable to full-time jobs, students aren’t always paid for their time and effort.
Some argue that they are being paid with “experience.” This idea is utterly ridiculous. “Experience” will not pay rent, put food on the table or help students afford basic necessities. The notion that “experience” is an acceptable substitute for a wage is incredibly privileged.
Oftentimes, companies use unpaid positions to push work that needs to be done onto people they do not have to pay, thus saving them money and helping the bottom line. College students or those who have just graduated present the perfect opportunity, because they don’t have much choice. People desperate for a job or to make connections, with limited options, are more likely to put up with being exploited.
For those whose families are in a position to help them through this period until they finally secure a paid position, this might be an inconvenience, but they will not be affected to the same extent as those who do not have that extra financial help. Those who must work to survive are in a far different situation.
Students who, for whatever reason, must generate their own income to get by are disadvantaged in numerous ways. They may be unable to even consider such opportunities, which limits their choice of careers, as employers often pick more decorated resumes. They may try to juggle working a paying job and an unpaid internship, which leaves little time for focusing on schoolwork, leisure or taking care of themselves. Taking an opportunity without earning money is hardly an option.
These practices serve only to keep students from lower-income families stuck in their financial class, while giving others a leg up. Those who do not rely on paid work to survive are free to pursue whatever careers they please and acquire opportunities that make them more likely to be hired, while still focusing on their grades, having time for hobbies and spending time with friends and family.
While we know that students have limited power to change these practices, we hope students that are able to do so demand to be compensated fairly for their work. More importantly, however, we hope employers understand that there is an entire category of the population that, despite the ambition or intelligence of individuals within it, is effectively barred from gaining experience and making connections, which hurts their chances of being hired. While it is easy to see the advantage of offering unpaid opportunities from an employer’s perspective, there is no denying their broader effects. Is it really wise to have entire career fields absent of the working class — that is to say, those who have had to work for what they have and appreciate the value of someone’s time? We at The Alestle say no.