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Why Pay Your Interior Design Interns – 5 Reasons You May Not Have Considered

business of interior design emerging professionals interior design leadership leading interior designers Sep 08, 2021
Should you pay interior design interns

You may remember when you were a student—the feeling of freedom, independence, and hope. You and your friends were going to conquer the world. You were going to design the most beautiful spaces featured on magazine covers across the globe. It was a fantastic feeling; I can still feel how invisible I felt.

However, do you also remember how broke you were, and the stress of paying for the next semester's tuition or books felt overwhelming? I was one of the lucky ones. My dad, a steamfitter, and paternal grandmother, a factory worker at Allison's Automotive, skimped and saved to pay for my college tuition and living expenses. It was the biggest blessing.

Why Pay Interior Design Interns

So many of my students do not have that luxury. Many are working two to three jobs just to survive. Imagine the looks on their faces when I tell them to get an internship; even an unpaid one will help them. So many just shake their heads at me.

Check Out: “How to Provide a Valuable Internship

I spoke to one of my interior design students the other day, and she asked me about getting an internship. She is very talented and could be a real asset to a design firm. However, she shared that she financially could not take an internship because she needs her job, unrelated to the field, to pay her rent, food, and bills. It hit me that this was one of the saddest situations. Here is an incredibly talented design student with the maturity to do great things in the industry, yet her financial situation is holding her back from pursuing her career goals.

The reality is that many of our students today are living off student loans and working multiple jobs just to advance their education. So, as an industry, how can we support future designers? It is time we come at this from a place of abundance rather than a scarcity mindset. This shift starts by offering paid internships for design students.

Related Article: "My Best Advice to Interior Design Students: Get an Internship!"

Attract Higher Quality Interior Design Candidates

The truth is that offering students a paid internship has many positive impacts on your business. Research shows that a paid internship will attract more qualified interns, up to 2.5 times more than an unpaid internship. One of the main reasons for hiring an intern is to identify a potential new employee.

Check Out: “How to Find Your Next Candidate on LinkedIn

Getting a glimpse of the talent pool and finding a hard worker is a big motivator. With a paid internship, you will have a larger pool of candidates. Unfortunately, many interior design students may pass on your firm to work at a competitor paying interns.

Increase Productivity & Improve Engagement

Interns can help a studio get work done. Whether it is production work, research, or organizing the library, a million little tasks are needed. If I asked you to work for free, would you?

Would you work at your job if you weren't paid? Would you put in the long hours or go the extra mile if you weren't rewarded for the effort? I bet the answer is no. If your boss walked in right now and said, hey, we will pay you 75% less, I bet your attitude would dramatically change. I could almost guarantee that you would take one look at the pile of work on your desk, then grab your belongings and head home. Your attitude might be, "why bother."

Why would a design student react much differently? They would not. Think about why you reward your employees. Most likely, you want to retain, engage, and motivate your employees. You may also want to build loyalty. Inadequate compensation has a direct correlation to job satisfaction, low productivity, and high turnover. Research shows a direct relationship between pay and the amount of time spent working in the office, answer emails, and even selling.

The Legality of Unpaid Internships

This is something new I learned in researching this topic. According to the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, if your business is profiting or benefiting from an intern, the intern can be considered an employee. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a fact sheet that helps you identify whether an intern qualifies as an employee. It looks at the extent to which the internship plays a part in the formal educational process. You might be surprised to learn that many businesses have a legal responsibility to pay interns.

I found several news articles about interns suing businesses and winning significant judgments for unpaid work in the research. I do not bring this up to scare you. Instead, I give you insight on what to consider when thinking of hiring an intern.
Alleviating the Financial Stress with Paid Internships

It is hard to miss that many recent stories about the college student debt crisis. To better themselves through education, students are betting on their future through student loans. The average student debt is around $35,000.

We are asking students to take an unpaid internship, which equals more student debt. We ask this to get experience in the industry to get a job that may or may not pay enough to pay back the college debt in the next 10 years.

The financial burden on students can greatly impact their productivity during school and internships. I have one student who took on three jobs this past semester because he "didn't have a choice." I have had this student in a previous course, and he does excellent work, yet this semester, he was late on nearly every assignment. What changed with the student wasn't his desire to do well because he is an overachiever. It was purely time necessary to complete the school work. You may say, well, he should have made time. Well, he also should be able to pay his rent and be able to eat.

Financial responsibilities are a key driver of stress and relational issues for all of us. Helping eliminate by paying a student for their work will go a long way in how that student works and engages with your studio.

Interior Design Interns are Hungry for the Experience

Design students who want a career in this field often go through Arapahoe Community College's interior design program because it is a lower-cost option, yet it is still an outstanding program. I would argue that many of my students work harder than working adults I know. The reason is they have to so they can survive.

Imagine one of these students working for you. The hunger and desire to learn are significant, and many are extremely hard workers. They juggle school, jobs, and even families to better their situation. As an industry, we need to work on giving them a chance to be successful. This starts with creating opportunities and providing financial rewards to help them expand their knowledge. And, who knows, you may find that student may teach you a thing or two.

Ways to Appreciate Student Interns

  • Looking for additional ways to reward students. Here are six fresh ideas you may not have considered.
  • Formal mentorship beyond the internship period.
  • Gift cards for gas, food, etc.
  • Free lunches
  • Pay for networking events and memberships
  • Showroom visit and tour with an experienced designer
  • A recommendation letter or introduction to a hiring manager

Tags: Business Tips, Emerging Professional, Leadership, interior design, internship, paid internship, should I pay interns, interior design business, Interior design training, interior design blog, women entrepreneurs design business, business tips for designers, interior design blogger, design business, behind the design

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