When I was a journalism student at the University of Kansas, I had the opportunity to take part in a couple of internships for a magazine – one over a winter break and one in the summer. While I was working there, I edited articles, wrote headlines, researched websites for an advertiser project and made sales calls. For all of that, I was officially paid a grand total of zero dollars. Well, that’s technically not true; they slipped me some money on a couple of occasions. But when you factor in the gas money, train tickets and lunch money I spent, I lost money while working – for “experience.”
My industry is notorious for sticking it to journalism interns at every opportunity. Magazines and newspapers have worked interns hard, giving them experience in the industry while never paying a dime for the pleasure. Did those interns gain experience? They did – they learned that journalism requires 80 hours of work a week and pays for a few hours as possible. The smart ones learned that lesson well and moved found a new career. Those of us dumb or naïve enough to stay in it entered journalism knowing that we’ll never be valued properly, but that we can get free labor from college students and call it an internship.
It’s a vicious cycle that needs to stop. Interns put in a lot of work and deserve fair compensation for their time. It shouldn’t be money slipped under the table, either. It needs to be spelled out in the agreement. The true purpose of the internship is not to get cheap labor for the employer, after all. It’s meant to get the worker experience in the industry and determine if they want to make it their career. If their first experience in the industry is an employer who works them hard and pays little if anything in return, they may start looking for a new career. If you are their first employer, give them a positive start in the meat industry. Let them know they can get paid decent money for good work and that they are a valued member of your team, even if it’s a temporary job.