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Youth debate: Paid or Unpaid Internships?

After years of studies, young people get into the hustle bustle of finding a proper internship, both paid and unpaid. Some interns are allocated a minor allowance. More and more young people choose to do unpaid internships, hoping that some work experience will increase their value on the job market. However today,  young people wonder: Is there any value in unpaid internships? Debate.


Hemna Sukhai: “Internship a means for exploitation” 

Internships have increasingly become an established stepping-stone to employment for students starting their careers, says Hemna. “An internship is a way of showcasing the relevance of their academic studies to the real world, allowing them to get a head start in their careers. Undeniably, unpaid internships have experienced an exponential growth in recent years. They are controversial due to more benefits for the employers than the interns. The interns are often considered as a free source of labour which reduces the amount of taxes paid and hence the costs of production. This may lead to unfair labour exploitation.” 

Referring to statistics, she argues that only 37% of students who did unpaid internships are actually hired as compared to 63% who completed paid internships. “Unpaid internships tend to close off opportunities for applicants coming from disadvantaged backgrounds since only students from wealthy families can afford to work for free. This further creates greater inequality. Thus unpaid internships come with high opportunity costs and contribute substantially less to the interns’ success and goal of securing employment. There are some instances where an unpaid internship still has its advantage, such as providing a student with experience they cannot get elsewhere. Former interns also have a competitive advantage over other job seekers. Undoubtedly an internship can be an excellent way to ‘try out’ a certain career and learn the tips of trade.”

She believes that before deciding whether to undertake an unpaid internship, students should make sure what to expect from it and, in turn, what the employer expects from them.

Khoushna Mudhoo: “Internships bridge the gap between job market and universities”  

Khoushna Mudhoo states that unpaid internships have become a phenomenon nowadays, especially for youngsters. “Unpaid internships can definitely help in getting a job more quickly due to the fact that there is a need to obtain a lot of experience, develop diversified skills as well as increasing knowledge. Moreover, it is a plus in the sense that youngsters get to work along with professionals who might act as references for them. Besides, unpaid internships allow the young people to get acquainted with the working conditions as well as the values inherited at the work place.  They learn about punctuality and how to abide by the rules and learn about the policies of a particular company.” 

The young lady believes that internships can also help in team building management whereby working in a team is considered as a crucial aspect in the job market. “Unpaid internships can also help these newcomers define the field or the job they want in the future, hence providing them with an opportunity to explore their career choices and making  wise decisions. It acts as a bridge between the academic world   and the job market. Unpaid interns can be assigned with fewer responsibilities and thus mould themselves for bigger responsibilities in the times ahead.”

For her, unpaid interns are unaware about the real challenges faced in the job market because of being limited to certain duties or tasks.  “These youth are sometimes not even treated on the same footing as other staff members. In addition, during job interviews, these unpaid interns are not taken seriously, thus it does not provide them with any additional advantage over other candidates. Therefore, those who undergo paid internships are more likely to get a job rather than those who take unpaid internships.”

Zainal Kareemun: “Internship is a good way to get work experience”

With the dismal state of the current job market in Mauritius, internships have become a norm for many young graduates to gain experience  in their fields of study, earning some money, seeking a career change or escaping unemployment, states Zainal. “Internship is a good way to get work experience that will strengthen your future job applications. But if it’s unpaid, how do you decide whether it’s worth doing? I have completed months and years in paid and unpaid internships in different companies and organizations. Both have enabled me to gain experience and develop some more skills. I have also grabbed the opportunity to build strong social and professional networks, which are subsequently beneficial to my career. A couple of unpaid internships have, however, marked my personal and professional experiences. I spent two months at the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation as Conservation Trainee and had one of the most enriching and marvelous life experiences on Round Island and Ile aux Aigrettes. After several job-hoppings, I am currently Project Officer at the organisation. I have been an intern to a Project Officer for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, which have enhanced my experiences.”

She further adds that “various rules apply to interns since they are not an employee. Organizations should allocate responsibilities and allow the young professionals to prove their worth and conduct a formal performance appraisal, in the same way as other employees. Having some unpaid internship experiences, I will strongly advise young people to grab and make the most of this golden opportunity, because securing a job in Mauritius right now is a headache and the situation looks far from being remediated. Ultimately, the decision of accepting an internship is an individual’s choice made on its expected benefits. This nevertheless, calls for justice to interns!”

Agileswaran Durkka Darshan: “Exploitation of young people skills” 

In today’s circumstances, we can say that unpaid internship has its advantages and disadvantages, argues Darshan.  “Nowadays whether in public or private sector, there is a typical situation of exploiting labor skills. Most firms prefer cheaper cost of labor for higher productivity.  The best way chosen by such companies are unpaid or lowly paid internship.  However, youngsters today prefer unpaid internship due to the experience acquired which are believed to be helpful in their near future to build up their respective careers.  It has also become a compulsory requirement for graduate courses in most of  universities. Internship programmes are very important but in Mauritius, many firms misuse these universities requirements for their own productivity by exploiting the skills of the youngsters.”  

Referring to his own experience, he reveals : “I have personally witnessed the case of an engineering student doing his internship in the finance division of a management company.  In these circumstances, universities should be able to classify the internship programmes as per the field of study of each student so that the skills of the interns are well used.  In regards of being unpaid, firms should be able to assess the skills of the interns and reward them accordingly upon their performances.  Such appraisal techniques will provide more confidence to new interns. They will be able to move more professionally in the job market and ascertain their skills and knowledge in their respective fields of study.”


Dylan Mannikum: “Unpaid internships connected with your career field”

In the modern world, youth unemployment is a growing issue, declares Dylan. “For most employers, communication and organizational skills related to the position in combination with what you studied and how you can apply that to a non-academic setting is what they look for.  Unpaid internships connected with your career field bring you more benefits than money could - it brings you professional experience. The value of having an internship on your CV can not be overlooked as well as the confidence you will gain by knowing that you can transfer your college success to the real world. Consequently, internships offer a great opportunity for networking and to forge new professional ties that can lead to future opportunities, since each employee at the organization for which you’re interning is a potentially valuable contact. However, it must also be ensured that companies do not exploit employees from the use of unpaid internship.”

Dylan maintains that from the perspective of the employer, they view the intern's contributions as a fair exchange for the amount of time spent and energy taken away from the company’s financial goals on training of the interns. “It is also true that after a while, when the trainee’s productivity increases, the trainee should be rewarded for his or her work. To resolve this paradox, we should make use of the minimum wage law to prevent exploitation of workers and to protect applicants who belong to disadvantaged backgrounds from being excluded during the application process. A good example to follow is the new German minimum wage law, which also applies for trainees. The way the Germans solved the problem is that for traineeships less than three months, there is no requirement for pay, but for traineeships longer than three months, the minimum wage rules apply. So, their thinking is also following the logic that, after a certain amount of time, the productivity of an intern is already at a higher level and so, the trainee should receive some remuneration.”

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