As schools and universities are preparing to wind down, and students across the country prepare for summer break, many students are also applying for and preparing to pursue summer internships as a valuable step toward professional success.
Professionals agree that internships are crucial for many students trying to break into specialized industries, regardless of the industry. Internships allow students to get hands-on exposure to a career, gain practical experience, network with relevant contacts in their field of interest, and build connections that will help them excel professionally down the road. But because most of these internships are unpaid or low wages, it poses a huge obstacle for minorities and students in communities of color, who often cannot afford to work without pay and do not have the same access as white youth.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2019 Student Survey, 6% of Black students and fewer than 8% of Latinx students had a paid internship experience. This is an important distinction because the study also found that students with a paid internship received nearly 50 percent more job offers than those who had either an unpaid internship or no internship. Students from low-income backgrounds were more likely to work jobs or internships that limit their long-term career goals, prevent the expansion of their professional networks, and impact their overall performance.
Bottom line: minority and BIPOC students who are already at a disadvantage in terms of access to education and job opportunities are also being held back with unpaid internships (or no internships), which perpetuates the disparity in the professional world.
Breaking the vicious circle
To break this endless vicious circle, non-profits, and organizations such as Pay Our Interns and Next of Us Hair Care are working to bridge the gap one internship grant at a time.
These two organizations joined forces to create the “Next of Us Intern Opportunity Fund,” which is focused on helping Gen Z interns supplement unpaid internships. The fund will award $50,000 in need-based stipends to college students to cover living and educational expenses, including food, housing, transportation, or family care/contribution.
Pay Our Interns is a leading non-profit organization committed to equitable career access and paid internships, especially for students from historically excluded communities. Next of Us Hair Care is a newly launched haircare brand created for the unique textures, porosities, and styles of curly and coily-haired Gen Zers. Together they are on a mission to create access and opportunities for the next generation of changemakers.
“We want to see young people succeed. Next of Us (NOU) believes in the power of the next generation to make the world better for themselves and generations to come,” explains Lela Coffey, Vice President, Multicultural Hair Brands and North America Hair Care Portfolio, P&G Beauty. “Through this partnership with Pay Our Interns, we have started to do our part in helping to create opportunities for and lessen the financial burdens of the Gen Z community, which is something that deeply aligns with our values as a brand,” Coffey told BeLatina.
It is clearly a mission deeply ingrained in the Next of Us brand identity.
“At Next of Us, we aim to serve the diverse Gen Z population through affordable, accessible, and effective hair care products. Through both the Next of Us Intern Opportunity Fund and the availability of NOU products, one of our main focuses as a brand is to create a positive connection within the communities that we cater to and leave a better impact on the overall hair care community for the next of us,” Coffey said.
Betting on future generations
Pay Our Interns shares those goals. They are dedicated to helping create opportunities for BIPOC students and future generations. “As an organization, we know firsthand the challenges BIPOC students experience when trying to put themselves through school and start on that path towards a career,” said Brittany Horne, Programs Intern at Pay Our Interns. They must balance an incredible load, including their studies and jobs, to help cover the costs of living plus unpaid internships.
“It’s a difficult and challenging cycle, and communities of color often suffer in this process. They are forced to take out debt, they’re forced to spend money to get experience, and it all contributes to a broken and inequitable system,” she explained to BeLatina. “We wanted to do what we could to help challenge this current structure. By providing stipends for young people to take on internships, it is our hope we give them the tools to focus on their dreams and help provide a clear way forward.”
Together these brands are working passionately to help young people access the tools and experiences they need to succeed professionally.
By supporting low-income students and BIPOC communities through internship grants, they assist young people in navigating the pathway to success in whatever career they choose. They are also working to help young people understand that “labor and equity are fights where we can build stronger outcomes together,” says Horne.
These are crusades undoubtedly worth fighting. Considering they received nearly 1,000 applications for the “Next of Us Intern Opportunity Fund,” it seems clear that they are indeed making a lasting impact on working-class college students trying to overcome financial hurdles and barriers to career advancement.