By Jennifer Siviero
For many students, an internship can seem like the golden ticket to finding meaningful employment after school.
While internships can give students an edge by allowing them to network and gain valuable experience, when it comes to unpaid ones, students should carefully consider whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
Unpaid internships lead to lower wages overall, create exploitation of young workers and recent immigrants, cause socioeconomic problems, intergenerational problems and overall, are generally illegal. Tom Haxell
In 2011, The Ontario Ministry of Labour (OML) deemed unpaid internships illegal unless they follow strict criteria.
However, there are approximately 250,000 unpaid internships advertised in Canada each year.
Taking into consideration that Ontario has the highest youth unemployment rate in the country, at 15.8 per cent, unpaid internships are considered to viable options to students and recent graduates.
While young people turn to unpaid internships to gain experience, Tom Haxell, vice-president of resources for the Canadian Interns Association, does not agree that this experience is beneficial.
Haxell describes unpaid internships as being detrimental to students.
“Unpaid internships lead to lower wages overall, create exploitation of young workers and recent immigrants, cause socioeconomic problems, intergenerational problems and overall, are generally illegal,” he said.
At Algonquin, students are exposed to such program opportunities in two ways, informally through a program coordinator or formally through the Career and Employment Service.
Huda Syed, business management and entrepreneurship student, participated in an unpaid internship that was advertised by her program coordinator.
Syed interned at Great River Media, an Ottawa-based company, and found her experience to be rather positive.
“The events were a great opportunity to network,” said Syed. “It’s going to benefit my career. It’s a name I can put on my resume.”
While Syed had a manager who assessed her work, often times once it was done for the day, she was unable to contact them for more as they were busy or in meetings and felt she was not a priority.
“It was really flexible but at the end of the day I wasn’t getting as much as I wanted out of it,” said Syed.
Jennifer Jarvis, an employment outreach officer, assesses unpaid internships on a case by case basis to ensure they are legitimate and follow the six criteria from the OML.
“I think of an unpaid internship as when the company is not affiliated with the school,” said Jarvis. “Most likely while the student is still in school or over the summer or after a student graduates.”
And there may be very little structure to unpaid internship programs, Jarvis explained.
“Because it’s not a job, it may not have a job description,” said Jarvis. “We’ve all heard of interns who just become gophers. There is no value in the work they are doing. They need to be supervised and coached, their performance needs to be measured.”
She explained that the difference between these types of internships and other fields are that these types are more likely to be structured.
“They will get some good work experience and some professional references,” said Jarvis. “They are given a chance to get their foot in the door.”
However, with many unpaid internships not meeting the criteria by the OML, Jarvis wants students to be aware of other options, organizations that allow employers to offer new positions, graduate training, and pay parts of salaries.
“I think students and new graduates should be very selective and ask lots of questions (when picking unpaid internships), just as they would if they were to select a paid position,” said Jarvis.