In a world, where we value human resource the most, young adults are exploited in the name of experience and opportunities. With the work environment in corporate ever so competitive and toxic, unpaid internships as a form of free labour are now progressing and reproducing class inequality, subsequently denying equal opportunity within a system which stands to support everyone equally.
An internship is a period of work experience offered by the employer to students for exposure in an environment they want to work in. The idea behind internships is that employees pay interns to hone their skills, learn new skills and gain experience which would aid them in future. Yet at the same time, we have entered a culture where interns are made to work rigorously and still not get paid. There has been an increase in internships where interns are supposed to pay an employer so that they themselves learn something which is quite contrary to the whole idea behind internship. Students are allured with shiny certificates like Letter of Appreciation or Letter of Recommendations or even less work as compared to what would have been in a paid internship, not realizing that even though certificates look good on a resume, nothing can replace stipends for students, when a lot of them hail from an economically lower background and their family is dependent on them financially. Such students apply to government universities because of their affordable fee structure and good courses. But these courses, at least most of them, require internships as a prerequisite. For an experience which is almost like a job for them and is mandatory for their degree, isn’t it fair to demand some basic value in return for the hard work students put in.
This does not mean that whatever experience gained through unpaid internship wouldn’t be utilized or the certificates are not worth something, it is just that through unpaid internships we are creating a culture which only the privileged have access to; students who can work without the money, but with other benefits. More or less such unpaid internships deny students not hailing from a privileged background the equal opportunities. Especially considering the fact that companies want employers with some minimum years of experience, so how is that just when such students are denied a job because of lack of experience in the field during their graduate years? Sadly, unpaid internships work in a fashion that they widen the already existing inequality gap at the workplace.
Moreover, such internships are especially experienced by students belonging to a social sciences background. There are rarely paid internships for students from courses such as psychology, political science, sociology and literature whereas those from sciences and commerce courses have a better chance of getting paid internships. Therefore, increasing the disparity and biases in the value of different degrees. Nevertheless, be it any academic background, most students unintentionally partake in this unjust and toxic culture. Unfortunately, it’s a human tendency, we only value something, when we pay for it. Through unpaid internships, the actual work done by a person is devalued. And because the students are literally ready to do anything in the namesake of experience, this immoral policy continues to exist. Consequently, the implication of this culture is on both the organization and the student population. The interns aren’t motivated and no positive reinforcement is given to them. They complain and work less which evidently affects the organization.
In addition to financial conditions, students’ mental health is also affected. Pressure due to academics plus financial stability hits them. They start undervaluing their work and underestimating themselves. Students start questioning their self-worth. Even though money does not define someone’s worth yet there is human labour as an input and the least they deserve is some reinforcement, bearing in mind that many organizations actually make interns do odd jobs and work which they didn’t even apply for in the name of internships. These organizations are usually well-respected ones with high work ethics, so a student who has just completed graduation without any previous experience would assume the fact that they don’t deserve the money and that they are getting experience from a reputable organization at this age is enough for them. We are conditioned to think that we are not good enough and the organization is doing us a favour by hiring us as interns. But then even though our cognitive processes match when we think about what we deserve, not all students have the privilege to be mindful of such kindness and be ready to take up the job. A student from a low-income household would think twice before joining simply because they can’t afford unpaid labour. This practice of accepting unpaid internships is so ingrained into our culture that we fail to even notice it. Inadvertently we welcome this rationale, somehow justifying it and fortifying this culture.
Education has always reproduced the concept of class disparity. It still exists as a system where the middle class and poor struggle. Equal opportunities exist but they are at the cost of the financial burden. Therefore we need to start a conversation with our friends, from our seniors, with anybody who has struggled severely as an intern, to talk about this culture and in small ways where we can learn to stand up for ourselves. It is high time we question the curriculum and the failure of a system which encourages social and class inequality as a part of it.
Aashita Batra is a student pursuing Psychology from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Nuzhat Khan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.