Are Gen Z’s Pushing An End To Unpaid Internships?

Are Gen Z’s Pushing An End To Unpaid Internships?

The Free Press Journal (FPJ) found out factors like class, caste and economic privilege play a significant role in determining who can afford unpaid internships. While colleges catering to privileged backgrounds often secure such opportunities, underprivileged students find themselves excluded.

Megha ChowdhuryUpdated: Friday, May 24, 2024, 12:53 PM IST
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Mumbai: Internships are widely viewed as a “must-have” experience for college students worldwide. Studies show that students acquire new skills and build networks through internships that enhance their job prospects. However, several colleges across Mumbai that provide internship opportunities to students have established that unpaid internships are problematic. 

The Free Press Journal (FPJ) found out factors like class, caste and economic privilege play a significant role in determining who can afford unpaid internships. While colleges catering to privileged backgrounds often secure such opportunities, underprivileged students find themselves excluded.

Sana Dhanani, the Placement Officer at MMK College, highlighted the shift away from unpaid internships. "We've witnessed significant resistance from Gen-Z against unpaid internships. They are demanding fair compensation for their work, and we've responded by securing paid opportunities for our students," Dhanani said. 

“To counter Gen-Z's reluctance towards unpaid internships, we ensure nearly all students secure paid internships,” Dhanani added.

Ashfaq Ahmad Khan, the principal of Rizvi College, similarly stressed the financial constraints faced by students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. “Despite offers from big companies, unpaid internships remain unfeasible for our students,” he said. 

Universities themselves have advocated in support of paid internships. Some have even refused to post unpaid internships on their campus job boards.

Shriniwas S Dhure, Principal of Sydenham College of Economics, acknowledged that students are sometimes put in the difficult position of having to work to support themselves while taking classes but argued that doing so shouldn’t get in the way of an excellent opportunity.

Students need to see several factors before jumping to a decision. How good is this internship, and what happens to people who do it? Maybe it is worth going and betting on yourself in that way,” Dhure, said. “Getting rid of unpaid internships doesn’t mean that people get great paid internships, a likely scenario is a lot of people just don’t get them at all,” he underscored.

“However we all have to start somewhere in thinking differently about the experiences that students are participating in. There was a time and a place for unpaid internships, but times have changed,” Dhure added.

Students interviewed by the FPJ labelled unpaid internships as "modern-day slavery" and "coercion," citing financial struggles and exploitation.

Raina Jha, a third-year student at Rizvi College, shared her experience of being unable to afford an unpaid internship due to travel expenses and lack of compensation.

“Unpaid internships seem perfectly acceptable for someone from an economically secure background, but it doesn't work for someone coming from a financially weak family,” Raina complains, adding, “My family used to send me Rs 5,000 for my monthly expenses. The summer unpaid internship I got last year was 38 km from my house, didn't provide me with food or compensation for transport, and expected me to travel outside to meet clients as part of my job, which severely impacted my monthly budget. Helpless, I had to discontinue that internship."

Preeti Ghulve, a third-year student at NMIMS, faced unjustified events and situations during her two months of internship at a renowned bakery. 

“I worked 13-15 hours daily and there would be no weekly offs. Constant taunts and a toxic environment were already making me unfit to work,” she said. The outlet gave Ghulve an unsatisfactory mark on her certificate, needless to say, without any pay.

For Akshita Shinde, a 23-year-old media graduate at MMK College, landing a six-month-long internship with a leading radio channel was like a dream come true, despite it being an unpaid gig. An optimistic Shinde looked at it as a stepping stone. “I didn't even get a travel allowance and was subjected to regular physical and mental pressure while attempting to meet unrealistic deadlines,” she said.

“Although I did get a certificate of experience and it's even beneficial, however, the practice is hugely damaging,” Shinde added. 

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