Companies want experience. University teaches you what you need to know for your career, but most companies want you to come to the job with career-related work experience already under your belt. One of the most popular ways to do this is to work as an intern in your field of interest. But is it worth it?
On Nov. 22, CBC reported that Moritz Erhardt, an intern at the Bank of America in London, had died after working for 72 hours straight for the company. Earlier this yes, CBC also reported that Andy Ferguson, an intern for Astral Media, fatally crashed his car after working a 16-hour shift.
These reports suggest a dangerous trend in career training. However, the question begging to be asked is: Why not just say no?
Easier said than done. An internship can provide a vital stepping stone for attaining one’s career goals, especially if you are interning at a company at which you one day wish to be paid. Furthermore, the competition for jobs, especially in certain fields, means that an intern is easily replaceable. There is always the risk that the company will find someone else who is willing to put in the hours and do as they ask. In the case of Ferguson, his girlfriend reports that he told his boss he didn’t want to work an overnight shift and she responded by threatening to deny him his credit if he refused.
In sum, many interns are at the mercy of their supervisors.They need more from the company than the company needs from them and that puts them at a disadvantage. And so what is a student to do?
The Canadian Intern Association website states that “there are few laws in Canada defining or regulating internships directly. Each province has its own employment standards legislation, regulations and/or guidelines that may apply to interns.”
In Quebec, the Association states that, “ A person is considered an “employee” if these criteria are met: 1.the person performs work that is defined by an employee 2.the person’s tasks are clearly defined 3.the person receives renumeration.Therefore, an unpaid intern (commonly called an Stagiaire in Quebec) are generally not considered employees, but this can be evaluated on a case by case basis.”
It would seem that that there are no specific regulations for treating an intern in Quebec. If you want the credit or the work experience, you have to do what is asked of you. As reported by CBC, Nov. 12, Liberal MP Scott Brison is advocating for Statistics Canada to start keeping track of unpaid internships and Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Yasir Naqvi, is working to have interns covered under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. Nonetheless, being under the protection of a labour act will not prevent interns from feeling like they need to do whatever it takes to make their boss happy.
According to a report by Statistics Canada’s The Daily, March 20, 2013, in Quebec there are 6.1 unemployed people for every job vacancy. This implies intense competition for job openings. For a student, fresh out of university, every advantage in the job market is needed. If working 72 hours straight will ensure that you will have a steady paycheque when you graduate, who would turn that down?
The problem therefore is three-fold: there are not enough jobs for university graduates, the work experience required of graduates may ultimately kill them and there is no one looking out for the well-being of unpaid interns.