Interns can be a significant cost

Stuff reports:

Unpaid internships are being taken up by students and graduates, but their lack of legal rights could lead to exploitation, some employers say.

Internships are not defined in the Employment Relations Act so unpaid are considered volunteers and are not protected by employee rights, only human rights.

Businesses should not let unpaid interns do work that is integral to its success, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) manager of employment relations policy Jivan Grewal said. …

AUT is a university in favour of internships, Director of the AUT Internz programme, Ella Monahan said. 

She said 89 per cent of its degrees require students to undertake compulsory short term internships within the industry they are studying.

AUT students studying business and nursing do 10-week internships to gain real world experience.

Former AUT business student Terina Ngata said she was unfairly forced to give up her part-time job at a call centre to do an unpaid full-time human resources internship for nine weeks to qualify for graduation this year. 

Originally from Wellington, Ngata was left with no income to pay her rent in Auckland, but she was lucky to get financial help from her partner, she said. 

“They were not willing to give me weekend work so I had no income stream. Obviously I had no choice because I had to do it in order to graduate,” Ngata said. 

“It is really hard for students to find companies that are willing to pay them.”

I’d caution against the view that taking on interns is a way of a company getting cheap labour.

In the past I have had people approach me wanting to intern at Curia. They want to learn first hand how a polling company works. In the past I have agreed to this, but probably wouldn’t in future.

While interns may not be a financial cost, they are a cost in time. As the business owner I might spend 10 to 20 hours with an intern taking them through everything I do, and explaining how it all works. That is 20 to 30 hours I am not writing questions, writing reports, meeting clients, doing pitches etc. If you cost my time at $200 an hour, then that is say $5,000 or so opportunity cost to me.

And any work the interns do tends to be stuff existing staff could have done anyway, and quicker. I mean this with no criticism to any intern. Just experienced staff are are normally much quicker at stuff, as they know what to do first time.

So yeah there may be some employers who exploit or benefit from interns. But there are a lot of employers who take on interns as a way to help the intern, and don’t really benefit from it at all themselves – in fact it effectively is a cost to them.



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