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The year-old internship test from the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that internships should provide training similar to what an intern would receive in an educational environment, including clinical and other hands-on formats. Some experts have said the test could lead to more unpaid internships, while some employers are bucking the trend.

According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), around 43% of internships were unpaid in 2018 compared to half of internships in 2012. The hourly wage earned by interns as of last year was up 3.7% from the previous year, despite an overall increase in the number of interns. Fast Company recently reported the NACE also found that nearly 60% of 2017 graduates surveyed had an internship while in school, up from almost 50% 10 years prior. It’s clear that internships continue to be important to college students, especially in a competitive labor market where an internship – or two – can give job candidates a lift.

But, oftentimes, interns say they are just fetching coffee or running errands rather than gaining hands-on experience for their careers. Former interns have shared that “companies need to see the internship as a two-way arrangement, rather than a source of free labor.”

Experts report that the strong U.S. economy has brought with it higher wages, and employers may want consider offering paid internships as a way to widen their talent pools. Indeed, the number of paid internships is on the rise; however, Alan Seals, labor economist and professor of Economics at Auburn University, and John Nunley, labor economist and expert on internships, say this trend has a long way to go. Their research reveals that about 70% of internships are still part-time and 60% are unpaid.

Charlene Myers, internship coordinator at the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, says that when employers don’t pay their interns, they substantially limit the pool of candidates. For instance, she added in a report from Twin Cities Business, many students of color or first-generation college students don’t have the money to work for free. In fact, with so many students now facing large loads of student loan debt upon graduation, they cannot afford to trade labor for job experience without some form of pay, even if those unpaid experiences would make them more marketable to future employers.

Chicago-based media marketing agency Kelly Scott Madison considered shifting its paid internship program to an unpaid one in 2018, but the agency wanted to remain competitive in a tight labor market. Don Carter, who oversees the human resources department, shared with The Wall Street Journal that paid opportunities mean an intern is more likely to return as a full-time employee in the future, pending they enjoyed the experience.

Benefits of Paid Internships

The latest Glassdoor survey listed Human Resources Management Association of Chicago (HRMAC) member Deloitte in the top 20 of its list of employers with the highest-paid intern salaries. According to a report in The Balance, summer associate interns at Deloitte average $7,958 USD per month in income, with a range of $3,850 to $12,000. On average, Deloitte summer internships can last 8-10 weeks, while internships during the school year can last the entire semester. Interns generally work as part of a client service team in one of Deloitte’s businesses units, which include Deloitte & Touche LLP (Audit and Enterprise Risk Services), Deloitte Consulting LLP, Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP and Deloitte Tax LLP.

Some Deloitte interns have said that one of the benefits they saw at the firm was that interns attend Deloitte University, while others said they were treated like full-time staff and given a lot of opportunities to do meaningful work. One intern also noted that it was important to be noticed by permanent staff. Further, former interns say that the goal is to discover what you want to do long term, and part of that is connecting with people who are doing what you want to do and using all networking events to your advantage.

Internship programs benefit from having clear guidelines, and those guidelines should outline what the company and the intern should hope to learn from the experience. Deloitte’s program, for example, assigns each intern with a mentorship team, which includes a counselor and an onboarding advisor. The program also offers second-year students in its “Discovery” internship program an invitation to a three-day national conference at Deloitte University in the summer. These sophomore interns also rotate across two of the firm’s three main business units: Audit and assurance, risk and finance advisory, or tax.

Victoria Lawes, U.K. director of resourcing at Deloitte, told The Guardian that interning enables students to obtain the skills and provide the network they need to land a good job. “It’s a win-win. Students find out if that career is for them. Companies get early access to talent,” she said. For companies, internship programs can be integrated into the talent pipeline, and for graduates, these internships can offer more in-depth mentoring and preparation for their future career in a job market where entry-level jobs may be a thing of the past.