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Should unpaid internships still be offered?

by The Concordian October 11, 2011

Myles Dolphin – Unpaid internships are exploitative and should be illegal

Unpaid internships are more prevalent than ever and they are harmful, not because of the educational experience they (should) provide, but because they fail to expose you to real life situations.
Quebec should take example from the United States, where the Obama administration issued directives in 2010 reminding employers which internships were legal and which are not. States such as California and New York have already started investigating unlawful unpaid internship claims.
Even our neighbours to the west have it (relatively) stated in the Ontario Employment Standards Act: unless interns are students getting credits for school, the employee must be paid minimum wage.
Bethany Horne, an OpenFile multimedia reporter based in Halifax, garnered some attention last summer with a blog entry entitled “Why I will not work for free.” She says that if you’re dedicated, smart and passionate there are other ways to get into the field.
“Getting involved with the student press is an amazing experience,” she said in an interview. “Media companies are really limiting themselves by only taking on unpaid interns, because students who can’t afford it are left out of the loop.”
Students who are saddled with debt and living on their own can’t afford unpaid internships, and are consequently left out of the loop. It’s exploitative and it unfairly caters to students who can afford it.
Living expenses are a huge chunk of a student’s budget, especially for those who receive loans, so they’re only going further into debt by doing unpaid internships. And when you can’t afford unpaid internships it invariably makes you a less competitive candidate once you’ve graduated.
Quebec needs to set and enforce rules that directly govern internships.
Andrew Langille, an employment lawyer in Toronto, said during a CTV interview that “there isn’t a lot of precedent given the new development of internships” and thus students are left without options when it comes to unpaid wage claims.
Unpaid internships “are only simulations, not jobs. Fake jobs are not the best preparation for real jobs,” wrote Anya Kamenetz in an op-ed piece for The New York Times in 2006. “Work is a routine of obligation, relieved by external reward, where you contribute value to a large enterprise.”
She’s right. Without the monetary reward people are not adequately being prepared for the real world. Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, goes even further by saying that internships extend adolescence. Talking to Psychologies magazine, he said “I think we can consider it infantilising, because it means you cannot move into the stake-holder role in society that’s traditionally been thought of as adulthood.”
Employers are supposed to be doing a social service by preparing you and giving you a taste of the real world, not putting you in a system where employers can get cheap or free labour. Companies are counting on you not to sue for back pay because they know there are ramifications, such as the risk of alienating other companies. Legislation should be passed to protect students but until then, more people should take a stand against unpaid internships. Productive work should be rewarded monetarily, it’s as simple as that.

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Chris Hanna – The main goal of an internship is to give students hands-on experience in their fields of study

Unpaid internships don’t get as much love as their paid counterparts, and that’s a shame, considering the only difference between the two is a paycheque (and let’s face it: more often than not, the sum on said cheque is measly or negligible.)
People want to be rewarded for the hours they put in at work, but those rewards don’t necessarily have to be monetary.The goal of internships has always been to provide first-hand experience to the intern in the field of his or her studies, and students get that regardless of whether or not they are paid.
Organizations that offer unpaid internships are able to to hire more interns more often without budgetary or financial restrictions. It also allows employers to trial candidates for a position without any real risk of hiring, contracting and then being stuck with someone who eventually proves to be unsuitable.
An unpaid internship could also lead to a paid and full-time employment opportunity within the company if the intern is impressive enough. If that doesn’t happen, the intern can surely get a letter of recommendation from his or her supervisor – again, if their work was adequate – to assist in applying for future positions. Furthermore, internships can be great networking opportunities. Interns should remember the influence of their colleagues and keep in mind that they are trying to make a good impression on anyone and everyone. Many unpaid internships are also eligible for academic credit; this allows the student to spend time working for an organization, instead of completing a course required for their program of study.
Not paying interns allows employers and organizations to suss out the more serious candidates from the rest of the pack. Students applying for an internship knowing that they won’t be paid are telling their employers that they know that what they won’t be making in money they will be gaining in practical, relevant experience. Employers are able to determine their level of seriousness by seeing which intern is the most motivated and excited about the job and tasks they are doing for free.
This also benefits the intern, as they test the waters. Often a student interning at a company will be getting a taste of employment in their field of study for the first time. From this he or she may decide that they no longer wish to work in the area they have been pursuing after all.
Getting paid would be nice, of course, but no one is an unpaid intern for life. If you work hard enough, people will notice. What you are not getting in dollars for the few weeks of your unpaid internship, you should be able to make up for with life-changing and paid employment opportunities soon after.
A well-supervised and hands-on unpaid internship could even be more beneficial than a paid one in some circumstances. Employers find out who is doing the job out of a true passion, and interns find out if they love their field of study to the extent that they would work for free.
And isn’t it everybody’s dream to have a job so amazing and fulfilling that they would do it for free? An intern’s first priority should be learning and gaining experience, not getting a paycheque.

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1 comment

Jacob Serebrin October 15, 2011 - 16:32

Um…unpaid internships are illegal in Quebec unless they’re with a non-profit or actually part of a recognized vocational training program. Radio and TV broadcasters are governed by federal labour law which only allows unpaid work for registered apprentices.

But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a pointless argument.

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