Benefits of Working for Free: Why An Unpaid Learnership is Worth Your Time

unpaid-learnershipUnpaid? Why in the world would I want to work for free? Isn’t the point of a job to earn money, make a living and support myself?

In the grand scheme of things, yes. But it takes some strategy, time and dedication to get to that point, especially when you are preparing to enter the business world. We know; no one actually likes to work hard and “walk away empty-handed,” but hear us out. It isn’t for nothing.

Here are 5 reasons why unpaid learnerships are worth your time:

1. Getting Your Foot In The Door

Individuals who work for a company as a learner are often more likely to get hired for a full-time job after completing their education than someone who does not. They are also considered to be a much more valuable candidate when up against someone who simply applies for the same job but did not work for the company previously. This goes for paid and unpaid.

Many companies that offer learnerships have job placement programs. If you perform well and show potential in your role, there is a chance that the company will put you in contact with their recruiter to discuss permanent opportunities. You know the lay of the land, the company’s goals, what your responsibilities would be, and then some. They know your work ethic, what you contributed to the team during your learnership, and how well you picked up the necessary skills.

Now, this does not mean that doing a learnership translates to a guaranteed hire. You have to put in the time and show them that they need you to stick around.

2. It’s Humbling

Spending your summer or a semester working an unpaid learnership will humble you. You wake up early every morning, put on your work clothes, rush to get in on time, take care of your day-to-day projects and tasks, go home, eat dinner, and do it all over again in the morning. In between, you make mistakes, you generate new skills, you get intimidated by your higher-ups, you worry about taking on responsibilities that are out of your league, you get stuck doing tasks that no one else wants to do and you don’t get a single dime for any of it.

Sounds encouraging, right?

Trust us. It is SO worth it.

We genuinely think that everyone should work in food service at least once in their life because it teaches you how to treat people, and more importantly, how NOT to treat people. We feel the same about unpaid learnerships. This is because you are put in a position in which you have major responsibilities for a real company. You experience the stresses of genuine work life while attaining incredibly value experiences and skills that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Not being paid for a job that you dedicate yourself to will make you appreciate a paid job that much more.

3. Networking

Connections are key in the business world. You may have been the top student in your class, with excellent grades and a long list of extracurricular activities, but if you don’t make connections, you will have a harder time getting hired. It’s an unfortunate (fortunate, if you’ve got them) reality that keeps many qualified individuals from getting the jobs they deserve.

Taking on a learnership, regardless of pay, will help you build up your rolodex. Working with seasoned professionals allows you to seek advice, information about future opportunities, and even get references. It is common for business people to hear about an open position and think about a former colleague from years past who could be the perfect fit. Networking and generating contacts is a regular practice for all professionals, including those who are in the early stages of their career.

4. It’s a Resume Builder

This one doesn’t take too much explanation. Learnerships look fantastic on a resume. When you are ready to apply for full-time work, hiring managers will want to see what you did outside of school to get the experience needed for a job in the “real world.” They want to know that you took the initiative to gain marketable skills, that you have proper work ethic, that you have achievements, and that you can add value to their company.

And you did it for no money? He/she must be really dedicated and driven.

5. More Options

Most major companies offer learnership opportunities, but not all of them. Some don’t have the funds, some don’t have the manpower to manage an unexperienced employee, and others simply don’t have enough tasks to keep an extra person busy for the day.

The best thing you can do when applying for learnerships is to do your research, put yourself out there and tell companies why THEY need YOU.  Maybe there is a business that you are interested in that does not offer any programs. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, right?

  • Beef up your resume
  • Write a cover letter selling yourself and explaining why you would like to work for them
  • Request an interview to discuss what you bring to the table

Basically, show them that it would be a good idea to take on a learner.

True Story: One of our team members applied to a non-profit organization that had never had a learnership program, but she was interested in their business. She wrote a cover letter explaining that she was pursuing a career in marketing, and asked if they would entertain the idea of hiring her for a learnership. They invited her in to interview, likely out of curiosity, and she explained what she wanted to learn from them and what she could offer professionally. Realizing that they could, in fact, use some help, they hired her for an unpaid summer learnership. One year later, upon graduating university, the company contacted her on their own accord to ask if she needed a job because there was a position available. She ended up working there for almost four years, full-time.

We understand that taking the risk of working for a company without pay is scary, because you have bills to pay and your time is valuable. However, it will absolutely set you up for success down the line. Whether or not you walk out of the gate with a job lined up, you will gain an immense amount of skills, experience and appreciation for hard work. It will also help you determine whether or not you are on the right path. You may even find yourself realizing that you belong in a different field. That’s the point of a learnership, right? To find yourself.