I have always been keen on learning, but there is a inflationary use of learning as a substitute for pay (as in the exchange of material goods). This mechanic is haunting those who haven’t established a proper perception of their skill and expertise with their buyer/employer/client/customer yet.
Look who’s talking. I’m affected too. Time to rethink this a little …
Witty entrepreneurs looking for cheap labor have long mastered the “you will learn something” argument as a justification to not spend any money on some of the work they need.
I am not talking about internships. If you are new to a certain industry or kind of work and you find someone who lets you have a look over their shoulder while they’re working, that’s valuable. If you additionally, you can ask them the occasional stupid questions and get an answer (or a well meant slap in the face), even better.
If however, you’re practicing a trained skill with at least a basic level of technical knowledge, you should get paid. Just sayin’.
Think real world example (knowledge worker fallacy)
A babysitter gets hired. She is 15 years old. It is her first job (aka no expertise, no training, all natural talent).
Have you heard the parents (her employers) use the “you will learn something” argument to get away with not paying her?! I suppose not.
Yet in the business world and in many other fields, the gain-experience-payment seems pervasive and often unquestioned. It’s overdone.
Learning is great, isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, it is great to learn things. But I’m tired of learning as a substitute for payment.
Depending on your experience and your level of expertise, it can certainly be a good idea to do stuff (for other people, that is) where you’re partially reimbursed in learning (and gained experience). But beware of getting in the habit of not charging because you will end up learning something.
Learning vs. pay
You can always be learning a lot as long as you’re not getting caught in low-skill, repetitive busy work (that should not be done by humans in the first place). But that’s another story.
Let’s make some things a bit more conscious by looking at the following statements. Read these at least twice:
- Learning a lot (while providing value) doesn’t mean you should not get paid.
- Not getting paid doesn’t mean you are learning a lot.
- Getting paid well shouldn’t mean you’re not going to learn a lot.
- Learning little to nothing doesn’t mean you get paid well (aka doing low-skill repetitive busy work usually isn’t paid well).
The ideal evolution
- Get experience and learning. No pay. (intern)
- Get paid little and learn a lot. (apprentice)
- Get paid properly and learn a lot. (expert)
And one more caveat: Just because you think you should get paid, doesn’t solve the problem. It’s an important first step. Once realized there a plethora of things you need to take care of for it to become the norm though. Again, that’s another post (or a dozen).
Good reasons to work for free
Yes, there certainly are some. You might be working with somebody because you want to build a relationship with them, or meet a bunch of interesting / helpful people. That could mean building a valuable asset (a professional network).
You might be doing charity, volunteering, or simply helping out. No problem, as long as everybody involved knows that that’s the case.
Learning things is not overrated
Learning is freaking awesome.
The takeaway here is: Don’t use it as an excuse (to not ask for money) – and don’t let it be used as a justification (to not pay you money).