The problem is that we have setup an implicit class system. Those that can afford to work for free readily accept unpaid internships that advance their future career because they have the financial backing to pursue such opportunities. Those that cannot work for free (and most likely accruing significant college loan debt) take whatever job pays. As the number of high quality and relevant paid internships is few, the result is they work in jobs that do little to advance their prospects. It is a two-tier system that locks people into tracks not of their own making and chipping away at our meritocracy.
Even worse is the fact that we are creating an implicit expectation that working for free is okay and an acceptable business practice. We couch this in talking about the valuable “experience” gained and that this is some “rite of passage”. Interns should feel “privileged” for the opportunity to work for these great companies for nothing. The undercurrent however is that we are essentially devaluing people, their talent, and their work. We are devaluing individuals over institutions.
PAY YOUR INTERNS. And your employees. “We’re a startup and can’t afford to pay contributors” means you either don’t have a sustainable business model, or you’re wrong and border and evil. Or both.
Pay Your Interns | Strong Opinions @marksbirch
"a surprising amount of everyday life can be explained by signaling. For example, why did about 50% of readers get a mental flinch and an overpowering urge to correct me when I used “less” instead of “fewer” in the sentence above? According to Paul Fussell’s “Guide Through The American Class System” (ht SIAI mailing list), nitpicky attention to good grammar, even when a sentence is perfectly clear without it, can be a way to signal education, and hence intelligence and probably social class. I would not dare to summarize Fussell’s guide here, but it shattered my illusion that I mostly avoid thinking about class signals, and instead convinced me that pretty much everything I do from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night is a class signal."