Student backlash against unpaid internships

Sean Geobey, researcher at the University of Waterloo. Photo submitted.
Sean Geobey, researcher at the University of Waterloo. Photo submitted.

Unpaid internships are part of a growing “collective problem” of young adults working for free said a University of Waterloo researcher.

But not all Langara students are jumping at the opportunity to work for no pay anymore.

A recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called The Young and the Jobless examines employment problems for those aged 15-24 in Ontario.

Sean Geobey, author of the report and a doctoral candidate at the University of Waterloo, said Canadians need to work together to solve youth unemployment.

“Too much of the conversation is about what responsibilities young people have,” said Geobey. “This is an inter-generational responsibility, older workers have to train younger workers, and young workers have to learn the skills to be productive in the future.”

Geobey suggested the number of unpaid interns swelled in the aftermath of the 2008 economic recession.

What are students saying about internships? 

Some students said they simply can’t afford to work for free anymore.

“An amazing opportunity is no good if I’m living in a cardboard box,” said Megan Muir, an environmental studies student.

Etie Leyland, a computer sciences student, agreed. “Any work you’re doing, you should get paid for it,” said Leyland.

However, one student said internships are an investment for the future.

“As long as it’s in my field, I’d still be able to put it on my resume, even if it’s unpaid,” said Jo Marcilla, a nursing student.

Internships on the rise 

Unpaid internships are on the rise in Canada with companies such as the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, HootSuite and Bell Mobility recently causing controversy over such positions.

Geobey said it is difficult to collect statistics on interns because they aren’t considered employed or unemployed by the Canadian labour force survey. The Canadian Press estimated there are roughly 300,000 people currently working for free in Canada.

According to Statistics Canada’s monthly survey, the average youth unemployment rate in B.C. for 2007 was six per cent, and the average rate for the last 12 months is roughly 10 per cent. Comparatively, unemployment rates for those 25 and over has almost reached pre-recession levels at 3.6 per cent in 2007 and 5.4 per cent in the last 12 months.

Reported by Edmond Lu

Read the full report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Read more: the Voice‘s Gavin Fisher takes a firm stand on unpaid internships.

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