Internship: Is It For You?
Unpaid internships are particularly controversial these days. Even though the government is planning on a reviewing intern practices, most believe that interns should already be getting paid at least minimum wage. The argument is generally on the left wing of politics, focusing on social justice – and a hot topic among students and young adults just entering the workforce. It is also a hot topic among corporations, organizations and governments- the people that would be doing the hiring.
Experience is so important today that employers often hire students only if they have relevant experience, despite having graduated from school and applying for an entry-level position. (It’s one of the biggest reasons why I encourage you to take a co-op position, even if it may not be relevant towards your future career – it shows initiative and relevant recent experience if you haven’t been working for some time.)
Unpaid internships are highly restricted. As an example, law students would serve an internship (called ‘articling’) before becoming full-fledged lawyers. The articling students are often heavily overworked and unpaid, or paid just a small stipend; this system is expanding into business, marketing, and other careers.
This is the part where it gets confusing – because it all depends on the language your workplace is using. It never hurts to seek legal advice on labour laws, rules and regulations. However, there are guidelines on when to seek help. There are guidelines to figure out if you are actually in an unpaid internship that should be paid – or if the workplace is violating your legal rights. The best information for this topic begins with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, which focuses on employee and workplace standards.
However, this is not as big an issue if you’re working on a co-op placement through your school. Colleges and universities are granted a legal exception as it ‘assists’ your education and helps with future training for your chosen career. But when it comes to programs similar to these, sometimes the best intentions are manipulated by organizations just to save money, particularly large corporations, which tend to be the biggest offenders.
At the time I write this, internships are so hotly debated and so relevant today that changes are imminent – but what changes will occur remains to be seen. The new government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau intends to review the practise of internship to determine if it is fair in its current form (I don’t think it is) and to make changes in the law to make it work for everyone.
Therefore, the status of the internship is yet to be determined – but one thing is clear: those internships, and how large corporations use them, needs to change in order to accommodate those who have won cases proving misuse of workers. Since the goal is for younger workers to earn steady wages in an already precarious economy, wouldn’t it be worth the consideration to ensure that the young workers themselves get the wages they deserve?