Why Paid Internships Are More Important During A Pandemic Than Ever


The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the economy. As adults around the world began to grapple with a changing job sector and record-high rates of unemployment claims, students were left to wonder if paid internships would become a sidelined topic. Then, just around a month ago, Mayor de Blasio announced the cancellation of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) citing health and safety concerns.

SYEP places 14 to 24-year-old New Yorkers in summer jobs across the public and private sectors. On April 8, city officials told program providers that they would not reimburse any expenses incurred after the given the date.

The announcement forced companies to cancel thousands of jobs and internships, affecting 75,000 students who were counting on the program to gain social and financial capital this summer.

At a time like this when New York State has confirmed more cases than any country outside the U.S., families are struggling to afford daily expenses, and students stranded at home are desperate to help in any way they can.

“The paid internship helped me see that my work has value. But also my parents couldn’t pay for a lot of things like books or transportation,” said Yamile Pacheco Cueva, a former PENCIL part-time intern and now a full-time employee.

“I needed to go to school every day; I was commuting so it was like a very good help for me. It was either that or walking to school,” she said.

Like Ms. Cueva, many others in New York City’s public school system, are first-generation students. While there are many benefits to internships during high school years, first-gen students use this opportunity to develop the professional connections that they might not have access to through their parents or immediate family.

Read More about the Challenges Public School Students Are Currently Facing

The business organizations that PENCIL works with help create an equitable career development system where people from all economic and social backgrounds get equal opportunities to succeed.

There is still an opportunity gap that companies can fill, especially as the city is decreasing resources available to pay students.

According to a report released by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in 2014, 52% of graduates receiving job offers before graduation held internships. Still, a staggering 46.5% of those internships were unpaid.

Unpaid internships prove costly, quite literally, for students who choose to pursue one. According to a cost analysis by CNBC, an unpaid summer internship at an expensive city like New York could cost the student as much as $12,986. Additionally, a survey by the NACE indicates paid internships also often result in getting more future job offers and higher salaries down the line.

“Paid internships are critical for students to gain experience, social capital and income. That is why PENCIL is dedicated to placing hundreds of students a year in high-quality, career-facing internships,” said Jessica Bynoe, PENCIL’s VP and Chief Strategy Officer.

Paid internships help students from low-income families set off expenses that may otherwise put a strain on the family. The money helps them save for college, pay off student loans, and contribute to the household income.

“Unfortunately, this year, PENCIL may not be able to support the same number of students we usually do. When the city cancelled SYEP, they took away the resources necessary to pay summer interns a fair minimum wage.”

PENCIL has already trained hundreds of students to prepare for an internship this summer. It is committed to continuing this support by offering flexible, virtual internship training and creating nontraditional summer remote internship and work experiences for as many students as possible.

“We have already placed 50 students in remote internships and are actively raising funds to support more students in paid positions. On Giving Tuesday Now, we launched the #SaveTheirSummers campaign where individuals can donate to this critical need. So far we have raised $10,000 and plan to keep the campaign open till end of June,” Jessica said.

Money raised from the campaign will directly fund summer internships for PENCIL’s students.

“I am really interested and hopeful to be able to gain further business practical skills this summer,” Jocelyn Tang, a freshman at Cornell University and a former PENCIL intern said.

Last year, Ms. Tang pursued a summer internship at Heike NY, but this year she might not be able to get the same opportunity.

“I cannot stress enough how important paid internships are for students like Jocelyn. As a first-gen student myself I know how internships lead to skill development and a sense of belonging in a professional setting,” Jessica said.

“I can attribute my entire career and the knowledge to navigate my industry to my first internship nearly 20 years ago.”