The Word Intern Is Not Spelt S-L-A-V-E

MH3 —  December 4, 2017

I am shocked, appalled, and mortified.

I just found out that a very well known major sports organization in this country pays their interns seventy-five dollars a week. Yes, the equivalent of $3,900 a year if they were employed for fifty-two weeks. I also discovered that a major sports league in this country provides their interns with an honorarium of $500 per month. That’s $6,000 a year or 35% more than the first organization I referenced. A third organization I heard about recently, a sponsorship consultancy, is paying their interns with tickets to major league events. But while in attendance (by themselves because they only get one), they need to audit the sponsor signage and promotions at the venue.

Last time I checked minimum wage was $11.60 per hour in Ontario. If you asked an intern to work a forty-hour week, you should pay them $464.00 a week. I don’t need to teach you how to do math, but clearly somebody needs a math lesson since these organizations are paying people a fraction of what is legal. In fact, a $75/week stipend is 16% of what minimum wage calls for.

Are they only expecting 16% effort, 16% productivity, 16% accountability, and 16% responsibility? I doubt it. In fact, I bet it’s the opposite. I suspect they are expecting 116% of the intern’s life.

You don’t need a math lesson and you don’t need a lesson in fairness. But someone does. How is a young person who has tuition to pay, rent to find, food to scrounge, and probably debts accumulating supposed to survive on these meager wages? It is not enough to suggest they are being rewarded through training. That is crap. Total crap. I am fifty-two years old and I am learning about my job every day. Does that mean I should make slave wages? Hell no – Abe Lincoln solved that for me a long time ago!

We used to underpay our interns, years ago we only paid a $2,000 per term honorarium. But we soon realized that was rampantly unfair to both the interns and to us. They were not getting a fair financial return and we were not attracting the best talent. So when we increased it and then late began to follow minimum wage, I falsely believed everybody else was doing the same. Guess I am wrong.

This came to light for me recently when a friend’s daughter asked for advice as to what internship they should choose. Her first criteria was to find something flexible so she could keep her non-internship, part-time job, which pays quite well. It was only then that I discovered the facts!

Our industry needs interns, not the other way around. They provide a pool of talented short-term labor which is crucial for busy times. They form a pipeline of entry-level talent that you know well through extended exposure. They bring ideas, energy, and enthusiasm. They become ambassadors of your brand for their professional lives.

If you can sleep at night supporting a system where you take advantage of interns than more power to you. But I can’t – and I believe many people are on my side of the bed on this one. I think that the colleges and universities who pitch their students to companies should begin to freeze out those that won’t provide fair compensation, regardless of their profile.