How Kitamba and other small businesses get creative

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Photo Credit: Kalawin /iStock Photo

Top tech companies are on the hunt for talent. And the competition is heating up. For interns, this means the future has never looked brighter. A role with one of the biggest games in town. A new network that includes connections sure to help with success throughout one’s career.

But that’s not all. Some tech company interns are also receiving a paycheck that is… wait for it… nearly double what most of us make.

Facebook interns earn more than peers at any other company – and nearly double the median salary on Glassdoor.

Corporate giants like Facebook or Amazon are of course naturally positioned to offer young talent such draws. They have a leg – or several billion – up.

But what about America’s 30 million small businesses, where most career opportunities lie?

Traditionally, small businesses tend to offer the complete opposite: internships that are unpaid altogether. Typically, that’s because paid programs are often seen as costing more than they are worth, especially when budgets already feel strained.

It is certainly true that full scale internship programs can be expensive. For example, a full-time, $14/hour intern for 10 weeks creates a $5,600 dent in payroll, reports Henry Goldbeck for Business.com. Add to that the need for desk space, a computer, and an employee to hire and manage them.

However, society – and our economy at large – are being hurt by small businesses turning away from paid internships, some experts say.

According to Pavithra Mohan with Fast Company, this structure essentially solidifies widespread income inequality before most careers can even begin.

“Unpaid internships have long been criticized for favoring (already) privileged students while others facing trillions in student loan debt are expected to work for free,” she says.

That’s because whether they pay $8,000 a month or $1,000 a month, paid internships continue to payoff long-term beyond sheer dollars. According to College Recruiter and the National Association of Colleges and Employers, paid interns are 34 percent more likely to receive at least one job offer upon graduation.

Specifically, while two-thirds of 2019 graduates with a paid internship received a job offer, only two-fifths of unpaid intern graduates were offered a job.

Given that nearly half of all internships in the United States are unpaid, this means that a staggering number of careers are being stymied before they start.

Fortunately, some small businesses are beginning to take promising steps to reverse this trend by getting creative with their internship financing, as well as with the definition of “intern” itself.

“Micro-interns,” for example, are one such new definition, says Goldbeck. A project-based role that is usually virtual, micro-interns receive a flat fee per project – usually a few hundred dollars – and require no desk, computer or transportation stipend.

And where virtual interns are not feasible, federal and philanthropic resources may be.

For example, the 20-person social impact firm Kitamba will in the new year begin paying its interns above-average wages for their part-time work. Kitamba hopes to be able to offset some of the cost of its program by tapping into federal work-study resources as well as philanthropic funds that match their goal of bringing diverse voices into the social impact field.

“We know that it is critical that individuals of all backgrounds be represented in the design of research and policy,” says Erin McGoldrick Brewster, co-founder and COO of Kitamba. “We need to be intentional about cultivating talent from all communities, and paid talent pipelines are simply necessary to bring new folks in equitably.”

Young professionals, through Kitamba’s ‘Equity in Action’ internships, work directly on research and data analysis projects intended to dramatically improve learning and life outcomes for all children. While taking daily actions to build equity, participants simultaneously build the skills and knowledge they need to become successful business analysts at Kitamba or elsewhere.

Along with Kitamba’s new undergraduate training program Diversity in Analytics and Leadership, the paid internships form part of Kitamba’s long-term commitment to develop future generations of analysts, public policy leaders and educators, particularly from underrepresented communities.

“When robust perspectives are included in responsible data analysis, public policy – from immigration to education, national security to health care – can be more inclusive and better all lives,” says Rajeev Bajaj, CEO and co-founder of Kitamba.

It’s crucial that more small businesses follow Kitamba’s lead and open up diverse career pathways like this. It isn’t just young professionals or their future employers that stand to benefit.

Indeed it is society at large.

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