Some time last week, YouTube personality and podcast host Adam Grandmaison sent out a tweet that quickly resulted in heaps of backlash since it appeared to endorse what is tantamount to modern day slavery.

The tweet which implies that people should be willing to do unpaid internships smacks of a combination of ignorance and privilege and certainly appears to come from a place that believes things like practice, exposure, learning experiences and valuable training are payment enough.  

Except that it doesn’t take into account that the majority of those who are looking for internships aren’t able to work for free because many of them are straight out of college and have things like student debts to pay off.

Of course Twitter had a field day when they responded to his tweets, with the majority firmly against the idea of having such a classist structure in place, because the truth is that those who can afford to take on an unpaid internship are those who come from wealthy backgrounds.

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Of course in the list of responses came the inevitable “in my day” round of tweets, in addition with the “if you don’t like unpaid internships, then don’t apply” retorts, except that THAT isn’t the point and doesn’t change the fact that companies who offer unpaid internships are exploitative.

The issue here isn’t that people shouldn’t apply for unpaid internship, it’s that companies shouldn’t be hiring people they can’t pay. What good is offering experience when you’re making people believe from the outset that working for next to nothing is rewarding?

A few years back there were at least three magazines that raised ire amongst many South Africans because:

a) One magazine offered a R30 a day rate (how that was supposed to cover things like transport costs beats me)
b) Another company flat out didn’t offer anything 
c) A third expected interns to have their own transport, their own laptops and creative programmes like Photoshop (have you seen the price of Adobe’s products?) 

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The above-mentioned are just a few examples of how out of touch with reality some companies are. Adam’s tweet is an example of someone whose viewpoint doesn’t extend beyond his own experience.

For many young students, doing an unpaid internship is simply not feasible - they have student debts to pay, transport costs to cover, lunch, etc. - no amount of “valuable experience” can trump those basic necessities. 

But not only that, the very idea behind interning without compensation is classist because it often means that the “selection pool” from which companies choose from afford one group of people more of an opportunity than others - the gap between rich and poor, particularly in South Africa, is bad enough and doing so will only widen that gap further.

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By continuing to perpetuate this kind of exclusivity, we keep the cycle of discrimination going, which is pretty ironic considering that the aim of internship is not only to provide young students with the necessary work skills and experience they need, but it’s so that these very students can, in doing so, gain the opportunity to bridge the gap by getting the opportunities that they’ve never previously had.

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