In Defense of Unpaid Internships

Joe Pulcinella DJ

Guest post by Joe Pulcinella

There is a lot of talk going around Washington about cracking down on photographers and other creatives for the “crime” of using unpaid interns. The classic argument (among others) is that we have minimum wage laws to protect the workers of America and to force young people into performing tasks for free would undermine the government’s best intentions to allow everyone to earn a living.

Ok, I’ll go so far as to say that I, like most people, don’t want to see anyone “forced” to work for free. But to ban unpaid internships would hinder, not help, those young people who would like to break into the industry. Let me explain why by addressing some the arguments against unpaid internships.

“Everyone should have a right to earn a living wage.”

The misconception with this reasoning is that not everyone needs to earn a living wage. One example would be young people who are still living at home and would greatly benefit from exposure to the workings of a small business. This experience is worth much more to a young person than a few hours of minimum wage could ever be.

“Employers would force young people to work for free.”

An employer/intern relationship is a consensual one. The compensation (in this case, a learning experience), is already agreed-upon by both sides. In the absence of this right of an intern to offer her services for free in exchange for knowledge, the intern may very well not have an opportunity to learn at all since most creatives are sole proprietorships without the resources to pay inexperienced people to learn on the job.

“The intern has no bargaining position with the employer.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The intern always has the ultimate bargaining chip in that he or she can simply walk away if the experience is not to their benefit. A good intern would be a valuable commodity in the creative community, and if afforded the opportunity to learn in exchange for a little labor, could start their own business and effectively compete in the industry themselves.

This is by no means an exhaustive refutation of the arguments against unpaid internships. It is only a starting point. So to deny an intern the right to offer service in exchange for experience would serve only to keep new entrants out of the market. To require an arbitrary, minimum hourly wage would only eliminate these valuable positions and encourage unemployment among young people. Keeping a free market truly free would not only benefit employers and interns but also our clients.

Joe Pulcinella

Joe is a professional wedding photographer, and this is the second time he has authored a guest post here on the Cutting Edge Entertainment DJ blog.  I really enjoy Joe’s writing style and fresh perspective, and in this case I would have to say I agree with him.  As a DJ, the time, knowledge, experience and relationships I have honed, evolved and invested are priceless, and to think that I should have to pay someone to share that is absurd.  In contrast, I believe that in many cases an unpaid internship can be more valuable in the real working world than a college accreditation or even a degree.   As an example, if you were to ask a bar owner if they would rather hire a bartender fresh out of bartending school versus a bartender with real experience, nine out of ten times the answer would be the latter.

Thank you for your post Joe, I look forward to more in the future.


click here to check out Joe’s last guest post

Photo Of Joe Pulcinella courtesy of Rosemary Taglialatela

2 Responses

  1. I must agree with Joe on this. I myself starting a new career at the age of 50 became an unpaid apprentice and found it to be of great value. Not only did I learn from an experienced photographer but the experience helped me determine if I really wanted to be a photographer with out spending a ton of money and time going to school. It was my decision to accept an unpaid apprenticeship and I like having that option available!

  2. Where shall I begin??

    First thank you Joe for writing this great article. I can give a true argument for unpaid internships as someone who has participated in two (in addition to countless volunteer work), and as someone who is now in the position where people are asking me for internships.

    To ban unpaid internships would put today’s young talent at a great disservice. I spent four years in Temple’s Tourism and Hospitality Management program. I volunteered at a multitude of hotel’s in the city to help them with sales blitz’s, worked at various industry events for free on a yearly basis, worked a part time internship (unpaid), and then finally a full time internship (unpaid). While doing all of this I took full time classes and held down a full time job to be able to pay my bills. It was A LOT of work, but I knew that it would was the only way to get where I wanted to be. I graduated college with more hands on experience then some people who had been in the industry for several years. Without that experience I would have never been able to land the job I did, and now be running my own company.

    People who are looking to intern are not working for you, they are learning from you, feeding off your resources that you have spent years building, and benefiting from your relationships. Why would anyone pay someone to do that?

    There are business transactions made on a daily basis, especially in this industry, that often times involve no monetary value whatsoever (bartering services, favors that will eventually lead to other benefits, etc.) There are also many parts of peoples compensation packages at their jobs that are considered to be part of their salary (benefits, vacation, etc). An internship is just that. A compensation that is not a monetary payment.

    I could continue, but this is only supposed to be a comment, not it’s own blog 🙂 Great job Joe. You presented many valid points that were well explained.

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