Inside the Profession

Friday Five: Do Not Underestimate the Power of the Intern

There are a number of young and eager students looking for a professional opportunity that will launch their careers. The problem is that a number of these opportunities include unpaid internships. For many young professionals, taking on an unpaid internship is out of the question because they simply can’t afford the expenses that come with the internship: travel, housing and meals. While internships offer a number of other benefits and professional opportunities, companies also need to realize the value of the skill level most interns are bringing with them. Asking for competent individuals to fill these internship positions requires an investment from the hiring company as well.

In this week’s PRSA “Friday Five” post — an analysis of the week’s biggest public relations and business news and commentary —explores the various pros and cons of unpaid internships. We also look at the various internships programs that companies are developing and how investing in interns can contribute positively to a company’s bottom line.

GM Student Interns Help Clean Up Detroit (Detroit Free Press)

General Motors will be continuing their GM Student Corps program which offers high school students paid internships that focus on cleaning up Detroit. The program had tremendous impact on Detroit’s revitalization. Through GM’s internship program, 108 student interns from 11 local high schools, mostly in Detroit worked with 60 GM retirees and some GM employees to complete service projects that improve and enhance the Detroit community.

3 Reasons Interns Are Good for Business (Ragan’s PR Daily)

Matter Communications Principal and CEO Scott Signore talks about why interns are good for business. Here is a preview:

  1. PR professionals get to sample the professional before officially inviting the interns to join company staff. For the interns, they get to try the company/agency on for size and discover whether this is a good match.
  2. There is always work to be done and having young, interested, and energetic students offer any PR team added support.

Read more from Signore in this week’s Ragan’s PR Daily article and offer your thoughts on how interns contribute to the bottom line.

Michaud: Internships and the American Dream (Newsday)

Newsday interactive editor Anne Michaud discusses the challenges behind unpaid internships. Michaud writes about a young girl, Jessica Padron, who was offered an internship in the Capitol Hill office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Padron was unable to afford the expenses behind this opportunity. Padron has taken to raising money through crowdsourcing as she makes a fundraising plea for $6,500 to pay for four months of living expenses. While internships offer wonderful benefits apart from money, students that don’t come from well-off families are in many cases unable to accept unpaid internships no matter what doors they may open. There is also the issue of legal protections against discrimination and sexual harassment. Such protections don’t apply to unpaid interns. The plight of the intern is a difficult one. Interns are in a fragile position, especially when asked to take on an unpaid opportunity. 

Leaning In, And Over, Unpaid Interns (Forbes)

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization found itself in hot water, this week, when the organization’s editor-at-large posted a job description for an unpaid internship position that required a competent skill level. The job description was posted to Facebook and needless to say received mixed feedback. Lean In is dedicated to helping women’s upward economic mobility and there seemed to be a major disconnect between what the company stands behind and this particular job posting requiring high skill level for no pay. While the majority of professionals can agree that internships are key to establishing themselves in their profession, Lean In is demonstrating their lack of understanding when it comes to the vast number of issues the organization is dedicated to combating and speaking out against.

SHERYL SANDBERG CAVES: After Scandal, Her Non-Profit Lean In Will Start Paying Interns (Business Insider) Business Insider offered an update to the Sheryl Sandberg/ Lean In unpaid internship debacle. After the job description was posted to Facebook, a number of people started to discuss the hypocrisy of an organization dedicated to improving the upward economic mobility of women but has a double standard when it comes to hiring interns. Women are already disproportionately represented in unpaid internships. Needless to say, the abundant criticism of the organization caused them to adjust their policies and not only will Lean In pay their interns but they will also develop a formal internship program which will hopefully help the organization to avoid these pitfalls in the future.

Nicole Castro is the public relations associate at the Public Relations Society of America.

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