April 12, 2014

Why pay an intern?

3 minute read, in Business / Social Issues

Paying interns is about more than short term bottom lines. What you water, grows. And there are benefits for both parties.

In his National Post article about the government crackdown on unpaid internships at two prominent magazines, Andrew Coyne makes the case that there have always been interns, they appreciate and need the experience to stand out, beleaguered publications depend on the system and that the skills interns pick up are are far more valuable than the coin of the realm. Apparently, school debt can now be paid off with fact-checking.

Of course it’s all true to some degree. This is a grey area. And I desperately want the art of journalism to survive in some form. But interns don’t cost that much. You also get more than the sum of the dollars you pay them in return. And if your model depends on free labour of any kind, it’s time to address the model. I recently penned some ideas that might help journalism address the disintermediation the internet has wrought on many industries.

So: why pay someone who:

  • has limited technical experience?
  • has limited experience in your vertical, product/service area?
  • costs you time and money to train?
  • may or may not become an asset?
  • likely has a limited network?
  • is willing/eager for the chance?

It takes someone who’s desperate or who has an amazing attitude to work for free. Sorry to answer a question with a question, but why would you want to take advantage of either?

If interns are doing work–even menial–that needs to get done, then withholding payment is just externalizing your costs to people who can’t afford it. Sure, no one’s holding a gun to their head. But every time you make that argument a kitten dies and your conscience needs a shower.

This argument can be turned around.

It pays to invest in people.

The returns far outstrip the minimum wage salary demanded by most places that have a clear(ish) policy on interns. Ontario is one of them. The Canadian Intern Association offers a full list of the provinces’ varying states of washiness on unpaid employment.

Teaching people is rewarding.

Beyond how it makes you feel and motivates your team, it helps you codify and systematize practices. It also helps you learn to articulate the details of your work when you have to explain it to people who don’t know your jargon.

Fresh perspective can be a boon.

Often younger, but almost always with objective perspective–interns can help you see your organization/department and efforts with fresh eyes. Problems that you’ve become blind to can suddenly come into focus again. This fact is only useful to organizations interested in improving their practices.

Building people builds character in your organization.

It wasn’t that long that enterprise was a partner in building cities and communities instead of professional shirking loop-hole finders. This is just one of many small ways you and your organization can play a role. Developing people develops places.

Doctors are always telling us we need more fibre. Who knew they meant moral fibre?

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