Opinion Column


Hands-on experience vital to helping students get future employment

By Brent Stafford, The Duel




Columnists Laila Yuile and Brent Stafford battle over the issues of the day. The winner of last week’s duel on the teachers’ strike vote was Laila with 86%.

This week’s topic:

Are unpaid internships exploitation or a good opportunity for young people entering the job market?

Internships matter. A recent college grad may have glowing recommendations, a great cover letter and a killer grade-point average, but without real practical experience they may get left behind in today’s job market. Interns receive the hands-on experience needed to stand out when applying for paid work and companies receive an infusion of youthful ideas and energy. It can be a win-win for both as long as a real exchange of value takes place.

Over the years my company has brought in a couple of unpaid interns and one practicum student to assist on television projects and marketing campaigns. For the most part, the experience has been beneficial for both parties. I believe it’s the responsibility of the company to provide the student with real opportunity to grow relevant knowledge, skills and experience in their chosen field and to establish important connections to help them find paid work down the road.

Read Laila Yuile's column

Certainly, there are companies out there that provide substandard internship and practicum experiences. Problems tend to come about in industries with fewer full-time jobs available. The most problematic are industries such as entertainment, sports and advertising — fields I know much about. While on contract in Los Angles and New York, I witnessed students vying for highly competitive internships at global ad agencies and media conglomerates such as Viacom and NBC Universal. Many of the best interns went from unpaid to full-time employees in a matter of months and, surprisingly, many of the executives I worked with had once been interns themselves.

I always evaluate a potential internship by first asking myself whether the opportunity is best for the student. I meet with the prospect for several hours, give them an in-depth overview of the projects they would be assisting on, and then ask detailed questions about their interests, skills and goals. If the opportunity is not a fit for the student, then it will not work for my company. This protects the intern from having a bad experience and protects my company from investing time and resources with no return. In my case, taking on an intern usually means investing many hours of instruction. If the experience goes well for both, then I may hire the student for paid projects or set up job interviews for them at other companies.

When it works, it works and I don’t believe all unpaid internships should be branded as exploitive.

Brent Stafford is a veteran television news-documentary producer and marketing specialist. You can watch his show at ShakyPolitics.com.






Who wins this week's duel on internships?

Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions