“[I] absolutely believe that unpaid internships should be discontinued, I see this as a means of business taking advantage of people who are desperate to get a job,” HRM reader Janine wrote.
For an unpaid internship to be legal it must meet strict requirements, including the condition that the employer should not benefit from the internship and the intern must not replace an employee. Some HRM readers suggested there was not enough program oversight.
“I think that the issue of unpaid internships is not being properly monitored by HR departments. While there is certainly tremendous opportunities for an intern to gain the relevant KSAOs of the job and occupation and not to mention the potential networking opportunities it provides; I have seen first hand where interns have been abused because of the fact that they are seen as ‘free labour,’ " HR professional Karena said
. “Most internship programs are not clearly defined and thus leaves the door open for exploitation of free labour by members of an organization.”
The reaction matches the results of a recent HRPA survey that finds 62% of HR professionals think unpaid internships that are not tied to education or training should be illegal. A third of those surveyed said such internships only benefit the organization, not the intern.
“When educational institutions charge tuition fees for programs that will not lead to employment other than internships, it tells you something about the disconnect between education/training and the needs of business,” Andrew Barker says. “Part of the problem is that employers have decided that families and the state are responsible for training. In effect, both the educational institutions and the employers are in an "unholy alliance", driven by self-interest.”
A number of HRPA respondents raised concerns that unpaid internships provide an advantage to wealthy young people who are supported by their families while working for no pay, survey author Kristina Hidas, HRPA’s VP HR Research and Development, says. “Many members said unpaid internships should exist within specific frameworks: that they be run as part of a larger educational program; be limited in length of time (i.e., three to six months); and offer compensation for expenses like food and travel. And that the role of HR professionals can be pivotal in brokering internships that benefit both the employer and the individual.”
As the Ministry of Labour cracks down on unpaid internships in media companies, HR professionals are responding with strong criticisms of the practice.