Much has been written of late on the topic of unpaid internships. All that has been written has likely caused you to pause for a moment to consider the morality, legality, and ethics of these unpaid experiential learning opportunities. What you have read has likely left you confused, concerned and uncertain. If you are coming at this from the perspective of an employer or business owner, you lack the luxury of feeling this way. Rather, you must possess clarity, confidence and certainty regarding the decisions you make and the manner in which you manage your business. To that end, here is some compelling food for thought as it relates to paying your interns and how it’s not only good for interns, but also, good for your business.

Why should you pay your interns? 

Well, it’s simple: paid internships represent a win-win. The intern “wins” because they are able to obtain meaningful and value-added work experience via a paid role. The “win” as experienced by the employer is really what serves as the fundamental principle upon which the business case for paid internships is built. Employer’s win by having their business agenda advanced. They get stalled projects off the shelf. They insert innovative ways of doing things into their environments. They are provided with the opportunity to grow their capacity while at the same time test running talent that could eventually work for them full-time in response to the growth their business is likely to experience.

So, getting back to this business case for paying your interns where it comes down to one simple question “What is the value of your time?” While introduced in a different context, the concept is courtesy of the business coaches at ActionCoach. For you the employer or business owner, internalize this for a moment. The question has great power and meaning in the context of why a business should consider a paid intern. The entire premise begins with an examination of how many $10-$15 per hour tasks businesses, and their employees find themselves performing.

Think of the small IT firm that bills out the work of its employees at $65+ hour. Let’s assume that they employee gets paid $30. How many $10-$15 per hour tasks are they performing that detract from their ability to do more of those billed out at $65 per hour. Then we have the case of the small business owner that values their time at $100 an hour. Because they are too busy running monthly financial reports via an antiquated accounting system, they are limited in how much time they can spend on new business development, lead generation and visitations with current clients and prospects.

Maximize your time AND help grow talent…

In both instances, if these individuals are completing tasks that they would otherwise pay someone $10-$15 per hour, they are not maximizing their time nor is their employer receiving full benefit from their talents and expertise. What would their day-to-day look like if they were performing fewer of these tasks? They would very likely be freed up to perform more of the “higher-order tasks”. In that capacity, they would likely contribute more to the company’s bottom-line. Interns make for great candidates to perform those $10-$15 per hour tasks. This assumes that the roles are in-line with their academic pursuits and short- and long-term career interests. Additionally, we should assume that the employer has been well-prepped and understands the importance of providing additional career and professional development related opportunities for their interns. If they are doing these things well and offering their interns a wage, I think we comfortably say, that’s what a true win-win looks like.

As employers and business owners, challenge yourself to stop thinking about what it will cost you to start paying your interns, and consider what it’s costing you today in terms of service, cost and quality to NOT pay your interns. What undiscovered opportunities to improve your business are awaiting discovery by that paid intern? What special projects that could retain more clients, increase your margins and drive down errors, never get started because your full-time staff is too busy and you’ve yet to benefit from the contributions of a paid intern. The choice is certainly yours to make and if you are motivated by improving your business in a manner that leverages the inputs of a flexible, cost-effective and highly talented workforce, you will make the decision to pay your interns now and in the future.

For more information, you might want to check out the National Survey of College Internships –

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