Unpaid interns: working for free

July 29, 2011

We went from lukewarm to cold on internships-for-credits, but it looks like it has gotten worse out there. Not only are colleges playing along, advertising unfair internships and making up programs with credits for internships without pay, but now they have started managing the expectations of graduates and legitimize what is an illegal and unfair practice. From the Globe and Mail, this quote from a student at Sheridan College:

“That was something [professors] stressed really hard – that we would not get paid”

Wait, there’s more, from another student:

“Humber is holding my diploma up in the air and saying we’re not giving it to you till you do this.”

At least, one law professor from York sees through it:

“My sense is that many employers believe simply calling someone an ‘intern’ relieves them of all employment obligations”.

Exactly. Ask them a simply question: why do you call it an “internship”?



Free labour: Volunteering and Internships

September 18, 2010

I am somewhat surprised that the issue of internships vs volunteering does not come up more often in the comments. Maybe it’s because the distinction is crystal clear to most, which is a good thing. In any case, this article from the Ottawa Citizen has an excellent example of each.


Recently, she signed up as volunteer co-ordinator for the Dress for Success Foundation, which trains and clothes needy women looking for work. While that takes several hours a day, she also volunteers at Goodlife Fitness’ daycare, teaches at Blessed Sacrament Church and is a skating coach for the West Carleton Hockey Association.

Unfair internship:

“A lot of shows have volunteer internships, but they’re very hard to get,” says Borer, who lived with other interns in Los Angeles and was supported by his parents during his stay.

“It’s free labour for the huge corporation, but it’s also experience for me.

“I believe that it will further my résumé, absolutely. I assume it would set me apart from other 20-year-olds who have just finished the same program. It’s a very competitive industry. So if you can do volunteer work, it’s extremely beneficial.”

Very beneficial for you and detrimental to everyone else who now has to work for free to remain competitive. That’s why there’s a law to address this collective action problem.

Now, the bad news.

Molina says those numbers appear to be shrinking because “volunteering isn’t as sexy as an internship,” which is more about getting work experience than contributing to the community.

Oh dear.

Canada: The Rising Cost of Working for Free

October 19, 2009

The Canadian radio show The Current on CBC talked about “intern culture” on October 8th. It was a rare look into the whole phenomenon: why and how students get into internships, what kind of experience they get, and why employers hire interns.

Anya Kamenetz was on the show (and was kind enough to mention this blog). She presented her perspective on how internships do not level the playing field by favoring those who can afford to work for free.

Three former interns tell typical stories of trying to get ahead of each other. One of them talking about an acquaintance who was an intern for five years. It’s a bit sad thought to hear how much they take it for granted that one has to go through internships to enter the job market.

Overall, the tone of the segment was fairly sympathetic to the interns and wary of unfair internships, which is refreshing to hear in mainstream media, especially from those who employ interns.

Madness and Shame

March 2, 2009

Internships-for-sale spark the outrage of Judith Timson in the Globe and Mail.

I’m no fan of unpaid internships. Not only do they penalize the less-affluent kids who can’t afford to work for free, but they are exploitive. Apparently some kids even consider taking out loans to cover the cost of working for free. This is madness. And shame on companies who encourage this to happen.

Madness and shame are words that should appear more often in articles about unfair internships.

Most said at first that buying an internship for their kid was troubling, to say the least. (I mean where does it end? Buying them a middle manager’s job at IBM when they’re 40?)

Exactly: where does it end? Isn’t the middle manager also learning something and getting a leg up for a senior management position?

Canada: Unfair Internships are illegal there too

February 15, 2009

The Globe and Mail, a national Canadian newspaper, has an article about unpaid internships with interesting comparisons with the United States.

While most internships in Canada have traditionally been paid, tightening budgets and hiring freezes may mean some stipends for internships may soon disappear, says Bill Weber, Toronto-based head of human resources for Drake International. It’s one step away from what is already happening in the United States, where competition for jobs is even more ferocious – so much so that some eager interns are actually forking over thousands of dollars to pay for the privilege of an internship position.

It illustrates well where the road to unfair internships leads: more unfair internships. No wonder it’s illegal.

The editor of the Toronto edition of Metro, a free newspaper (based in Sweden, of all places), tells the world that it is about to break the law.

Earlier this month, the company’s Toronto office laid off four unionized reporters and columnists, saying it will instead use paid freelancers and wire copy for content, and its unpaid interns for copy-editing functions.

A Canadian lawyer recommends to employers to sign a contract with the intern:

A clear statement that the intern is not an employee and will not receive any remuneration.

Details of the training the intern will receive, how long it will last and how it benefits the intern.

Explicitly state that the internship brings with it no possibility of an offer of employment.

What the level of supervision will be and who will provide it.

Whether the intern’s performance will be reviewed and how.

An ability for the employer to end the internship and how it would be done.

The message remains the same: interns are not free labor.