Insights and Opinions

Open Letter on Paid Versus Unpaid Internships

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor indicated that it is cracking down on the use of unpaid interns, saying that the practice is a violation of minimum wage laws and other requirements. Robin D. Richards, Chairman and CEO of -- and a successful Southern California serial entrepreneur and investor -- addresses the issue in this open letter on Paid Versus Unpaid Internships.

Paid vs. Unpaid. That is not the question.

Access to opportunity is for some almost an entitlement, but for the vast majority of Americans access to opportunity results from hard work and ingenuity.

The harder you work, the more ingenious you are, the luckier you get. The view that the government needs to regulate and protect our college students from the possibility of corporations seeking to take unfair advantage, I believe, is based on good intentions. However, in this case these intentions may be misplaced.

The American college student is sufficiently sophisticated, strategic and ambitious. Upward mobility is a uniquely American ideal. Anything is possible with education, preparation, hard work, ambition and access.

This issue of paid vs. unpaid is not an issue of fairness as some want you to believe, it is an issue of choice and free will. Statistics from 2007/2008 show that two out of three students who secure internships are offered full-time employment from the very company that gave them the internship. The marketplace has always been the great equalizer. If a company posts an internship that is unpaid and another posts one that is paid, the student will vote with their application. Our students are very capable of making a free will choice. If they believe an unpaid internship will result in a better path toward their chosen profession, then America’s best and America’s most ambitious will have a chance to craft and execute their competitive strategy towards getting a full time job after college.

The way many of the students from the 3,900+ colleges and universities not considered elite compete with students from the elite institutions is not on paper but in the actual working environment. They show their value live. We as a country do not need to constrain ingenuity and hard work and free choice with legal roadblocks. The approach of reducing options and choice will hurt the very group this well intended position is trying to protect.

At the end of the day, choice is the foundation to both our economy and our great democracy. Students today are well equipped to make this choice without our collective intervention.

Robin D. Richards is the chairman and CEO of He has led and managed several successful Souther California companies including NTI Group, and