Should Interns Be Paid?
Oct 14th, 2021

Should Interns Be Paid?

To pay or not to pay interns? This has been a bone of contention; a debate that has been going on for ages. Both parties in this debate usually present very strong defending points; perhaps this is why the debate has never been settled. The referee keeps waving play on.

There are moral, legal, and ethical questions surrounding this predicament. Despite of all the arguments, employers/recruiters have to decide what’s best for their business.

What does the law in Kenya say about Internships?

The Industrial Training Act (ITA) was passed in 1959. This was a period when most professional skills were acquired through apprenticeship. The Industrial Training Act makes provision for the regulation of the training of persons engaged in industry.

Section 2 of this Act defines an apprentice as a person who is bound by a written contract to serve an employer for such period as the Board shall determine with a view to acquiring knowledge, including theory and practice, of a trade in which the employer is reciprocally bound to instruct that person.

The same Act goes ahead to define an indentured learner as a person, other than an apprentice, who is bound by a written contract to serve an employer for a determined period of not more than two years with a view to acquiring knowledge of a trade in which the employer is reciprocally bound to instruct that person.

While this Act does not necessarily define who an intern is, there is a very thin and blurry line between the above stated definitions and who or what an intern does.

The government has however launched an internship policy that exclusively oversees interns in the public service. The policy defines an intern as an unemployed person with relevant qualifications who has entered into a contract with a government organization for a period of between three and twelve months with the intent of acquiring relevant work experience for registration with respective professional bodies and/or to increase chances of employability. The policy entitles an intern to a monthly stipend, annual, sick and compassionate leave.

What do interns have to say?

Speaking to two interns, I got the feel that they would prefer paid internships. They said the pay motivates them to go above and beyond for the organization/institution. It gives them a sense of formal employment that then instills in them personal responsibility to deliver to the best of their abilities. They however did not totally rule out unpaid internships. They would consider unpaid internships at prestigious organizations. These organizations often set interns up to a range of learning opportunities and challenges. They also increase the intern’s employability chances just because of the organization’s reputation.

What do recruiters have to say?

Most recruiters share the school of thought that internships should be unpaid. They base this opinion on the fact that the intern is a novice. They receive compensation through being taught exactly what to do in their area of specialization. One recruiter however stated that if the intern’s work leads to revenue generation, then it’s only fair to pay them.

What do we have to say?

Each business is unique and faces different challenges. Every organization should have an internship policy tailored to the company’s financial muscle and capability. Interns should however be treated with dignity and not be discriminated against.

What do you have to say about this debate? Which side are you on?

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