Student interest in internships increases as employers struggle to pay their interns

Kelly Byer

Tight job market forces creativity

The certainty of finding an internship and the chances of it being paid have declined along with the economy.

Employers listed budget cuts, lack of work, downsizing and restructuring as top reasons for hiring 20.7 percent fewer interns than last year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2009 Experiential Education Survey. Employers also said they would increase bachelor’s degree-level intern pay by 5 percent to $17.13 an hour.

But since the economy took a turn for the worse in late 2007, university personnel said they’ve seen a decrease in paid internships, but the number of available internships hasn’t changed.

“Right now our students don’t seem to be having a difficult time getting internships,” said Rozell Duncan, assistant professor and undergraduate advisor in the School of Communication Studies. “The problem is more of them are unpaid.”

Duncan said the application process has become more important as employers are becoming more selective. Students have had to look outside the local area and be more creative in getting their internships.

“So it does work out that our internships are still viable,” she said. “They’re still out there. It’s just that a student has to do a little more legwork sometimes to get them.”

Shardell Artis, senior communications studies major, said she has completed internships with The Walt Disney Company, National Association for Sport and Physical Education and The Leader Compass. All three internships were paid.

“Both the pay and location of the internships affected my decisions,” Artis said in an e-mail interview. “For example, when it came to pay, I had to make sure I made enough money to pay rent back at home and at the location of the internship.”

To show her interest and willingness to learn, Artis said she contacted two of the organizations to learn more about the positions offered.

“During the application and interviewing process, I let my personality show,” she said.

Using Web sites and networking are other ways to increase the chances of being hired in today’s economy, Duncan said.

Kristin Williams, business experiences manager in the College of Business Administration, said she also has seen a decline in paid internships and said employers are hesitant to hire interns.

“What I have noticed in just my conversations with employers is that there’s sometimes a hesitancy, especially with paid positions, to fill a spot with an intern when they’ve just had to lay off or turn over full-time workers,” Williams said.

But interns aren’t immune to layoffs either. Duncan said two of her students were cut in the middle of their internships, one in the fall of 2008 and the other in the spring of 2009.

Robin Pijor, assistant director of Career Services, said some companies have hiring freezes and budget cuts that have put employing interns on hold. But some have been able to get around that by offering unpaid internships.

“They still see the value in being able to offer the internship,” she said.

Pijor said 46 percent of employers reported they were unsure of college recruiting plans for fall 2009, with 25 percent saying they were unsure at the same time last year, according to a NACE survey.

“It’s really kind of bleak right now. A lot of employers are just unsure of their hiring needs, and not even the need, but what they’ll be able to do,” she said.

But for the most part, unpaid internships haven’t deterred interested students, Williams said.

“If anything, I’ve seen an increase in students looking for internships,” she said. “I think they’re seeing the value in the experience, versus paid or not paid.”

Contact enterprise reporter Kelly Byer [email protected].