This past summer I was checking the job boards pretty much 24/7 after having quit my job in Vancouver to make a new home for myself in Toronto. Luckily, I had a much easier time getting interviews and job offers compared to 5 years ago when I was a fresh-faced new grad, however I was still amazed at how much garbage there was online!  I can’t tell you how many times I would see “Marketing and Communications Coordinator” posted on Indeed, only mentioning that it was a 6-month unpaid internship hidden in small font at the bottom of the listing. That’s not an internship. That’s a full-time job and deserves a salary!

Although I never interned while in school or after graduation, I did work a lot of underpaid jobs and volunteered at a number of events to gain experience and make contacts. That being said, my little (well, not so little, she’s in her 20s) sister is a few short years away from graduating and there’s a good chance she’ll start out her career as an intern.

Internships should be a helpful way to show new grads the ropes and get them comfortable working in their preferred industry. They should not be a way to get kids with $50,000 in student loan debt to work 40 hour weeks for absolutely free! I don’t want my sister to become jaded and disheartened about the working world before she even gets her first real job! Something needs to change.

So, when I heard that Ontario was starting to crack down on companies who used unpaid interns in place of salaried employees, I was more than relieved to hear it. As you’ve probably gathered by now, I think unpaid internships should be illegal. If your company can’t even afford to pay your interns a measly $10/hour for their work, then you either have a really crappy accounting department, or your company just downright sucks.

Although this crackdown makes perfect sense to me, what I’m not understanding is all of the backlash it’s getting. Backlash from students oddly enough! From what I gathered from articles like this one from the CBC, students are complaining that the elimination of unpaid internships means that they’ll now have an even tougher time getting that much needed work experience. Did no one tell these kids to never sell themselves short? Because that’s exactly what they’re doing by basically begging to work for free (then crying when they can’t anymore).

The reason I never interned anywhere was because I didn’t want to. Volunteering is different. It’s temporary, it’s usually a few hours here and there, and it never felt like work because it was always to support a good cause. Interning as it is today is like working a regular job without any compensation, benefits, or guarantee that it will culminate in a job offer. And even if it did result in a job offer, what kind of salary do you think you could negotiate? You’re starting from zero! You have no leverage whatsoever!

If these students really want to get some work experience, they should get a part-time job while in school like I did. I learned a lot of useful skills that helped me land my first job after graduation. Better yet, why not join a work-study or co-op program in school? You’ll get valuable work experience plus a paycheque! So stop your whining, know your worth, and let’s all try to get every other province in Canada to follow suit by cracking down unpaid internships.

What are your thoughts on unpaid internships? What was your internship experience like?

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