School can only teach you so much. This is what makes internships so valuable. They are an opportunity to get real-world, first-hand experience in your field before entering the job market. But as some posters displayed around campus assert: “Exposure” doesn’t pay the bills.
These posters are part of the 2017-2018 Concordia Student Union (CSU) campaign against unpaid internships. According to their website, unpaid internships became popular after the 2008 economic crash. “Unpaid internships, specifically, download the pressure of getting a good education onto the individual while taking that pressure off of the government and the employer,” the CSU’s campaign pamphlet reads.
While some students may have the financial capability to take on this pressure, many students simply can’t afford to dedicate time to a job that doesn’t pay. According to a 2013 Statistics Canada survey, 52 per cent of students between the ages of 20 and 24 relied on employment to fund their education. Other students may need an income to pay for rent, to buy food or to support their children. For many students, earning money is a necessity while in school, and juggling a full course load, a part-time job and an internship simply isn’t possible.
It might come as surprising to some of you, but unpaid internships are actually illegal in Quebec. However, there are three exceptions listed in Quebec’s Act Respecting Labour Standards. Internships that are either part of a program provided by an approved educational institution, completed at a non-profit organization with community purposes or part of a vocational training program are not required to be paid in Quebec.
That first exception is of particular significance to Concordia students. While internships for credit can be an exciting way to learn outside of the conventional classroom setting, there is debate over whether the value of that experience merits students giving away their labour for free.
Among the CSU’s calls to action for the provincial government is the need to create standardized criteria for internships. We at The Concordian support this initiative. In a perfect world, all internships would be paid. But if students are going to be working for free, the government needs to ensure that the line has clearly been drawn between what constitutes a valuable learning experience and what is simply student exploitation.
Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth