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What Is an Unpaid Work Experience?

B. Miller
B. Miller

Unpaid work experience refers to any type of work that is done for the purpose of increasing skills or knowledge without receiving income in return. Internships, volunteer work, and on-the-job training are some of the most common examples unpaid work experience. Many college students in undergraduate and graduate programs are required to complete an internship as part of their educational experience. Others will volunteer their time in an effort to help others as well as boost their job skills. On-the-job training is somewhat less common, because in many jurisdictions it is illegal to have someone work without pay, though sometimes it does occur.

An internship is the most common type of unpaid work experience, in which an individual will work for a company generally for a set period of time such as a semester, six months, or a year. Though some internships are paid, most of them pay very little if at all. In exchange, the individual gains work experience and additional skills and knowledge to use for future jobs, and many will receive college credit for the experience, and hopefully a good recommendation. Some critics of internships state that it is unfair for students to be required to pay to earn college credits, and then work for free in an internship.

Some on-the-job training programs provide practical experience rather than monetary compensation.
Some on-the-job training programs provide practical experience rather than monetary compensation.

Volunteer work is another common type of unpaid work experience. For a person who knows they want to pursue a career in a certain field, but cannot find, or are not qualified for an internship, volunteering is the next best thing. It allows them to gain work experience to put on a resume, as well as to help others or contribute to a cause they care about. For many people, volunteering is the way they are first able to get experience in their chosen field, and many volunteers begin as early as high school.

Volunteering to work in a food pantry is a type of unpaid work experience.
Volunteering to work in a food pantry is a type of unpaid work experience.

On-the-job training could also be a type of unpaid work experience, though this is less common in certain countries where labor laws make it illegal to allow people to work without pay. In certain situations, though, on-the-job shadowing without pay might be provided to certain people as a type of benefit program to give them extra experience in their certain field, even if they have not been given a job in that particular company. Job shadowing allows a person to get hands-on experience and learn whether or not he or she is interested in pursuing a career further, and it is usually for such a short time that the fact that it is unpaid does not matter.

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    • Some on-the-job training programs provide practical experience rather than monetary compensation.
      By: Andreas Karelias
      Some on-the-job training programs provide practical experience rather than monetary compensation.
    • Volunteering to work in a food pantry is a type of unpaid work experience.
      By: Николай Григорьев
      Volunteering to work in a food pantry is a type of unpaid work experience.
    • Helping with organizations that clean up disaster areas is one type of unpaid work experience.
      By: FrankBirds
      Helping with organizations that clean up disaster areas is one type of unpaid work experience.
    • The purpose of any internship is to gain more experience, develop additional marketable skills, and become more valuable to a current employer or future employers.
      By: Kurhan
      The purpose of any internship is to gain more experience, develop additional marketable skills, and become more valuable to a current employer or future employers.