Why unpaid internships might be hard to fill in Nashville

Unpaid internships are back but might not be the best way to get work done in a tight labor market like Nashville.

The US Department of Labor allows for-profit employers to have unpaid internships if the following criteria are met:

  • The employer must be clear that there will be no compensation.
  • The intern must get hands-on experience that is comparable to what they might learn in an educational environment.
  • The intern can receive academic credit for the internship, or at least find a connection to formal coursework.
  • The internship conforms to the intern’s academic calendar.
  • The intern only works for as long as is beneficial for their learning.
  • The work of the intern complements that of paid workers, not replaces it.
  • There is no expectation that the intern is entitled to a paid position at the end of the internship.

You can read more about the criteria that need to be met for unpaid internships on the Department of Labor website.

If your main goal is to help a student get some hands-on learning experience, then an unpaid internship might be appropriate. Of course, you will also get “free” labor but the student should benefit equally from the internship. You can find out more about setting up an internship by working with the career center of a college or university. To get started, click here to find a list of colleges and universities in the Nashville region.

However, if you think that an unpaid internship might be a loophole to get some of the more unskilled aspects of work done in your organization, it's probably not going to work out. First of all, you may not even meet the criteria needed to legally offer an unpaid internship. Usually unpaid internships need to give students valuable experience.

Furthermore, in a tight labor market, you may find that students are passing up opportunities for unpaid internships in favor of paid gigs. While industries like the music business, television, sports and other entertainment can usually attract unpaid interns because of the competitive natures of those fields, businesses in other categories might have more trouble.

So, what’s the solution? A paid internship might be a good option if the work that you have to offer is in a short period of time that would work with a student’s schedule. But your best option might just be to hire a part-time employee to handle any low-skilled work that needs to be done around the office.

Another interesting program is Opportunity Now which gives teens a chance to earn work experience through real, entry-level jobs with area employers. Positions are paid and help youth in Nashville add to their resumés with meaningful experience.

A low unemployment rate like the one we have in the Nashville region right now can lead to many unforeseen workforce consequences. Click here to read more about workforce issues.

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