For many students the thought of working for free for an extended period of time doesn’t seem like a a feasible task. With many students already in crippling amounts of debt, working un-paid can sometimes be a burden that many can’t handle.
Fourth year Fanshawe College student, Nicole Salter, has two un-paid co-op placements spanning two summers. She is expected to work 34 hours a week for four months with no pay. Summer, a time when most students try to put a dent financially into their student debt, Nicole will be adding to it.
Salter explained that since she had no income, she relied on a line of credit to pay for her groceries and rent.
This is a story similar to many other students in London and elsewhere. A student in a significant amount of debt but yet expected to work for credit, or work unpaid for a significant amount of time.
A lot of conversation has been had about the legality of un-paid internships and co-ops. There has been substantial debate about the maximum length of an internship, as well as how many hours a week a student should be permitted to work unpaid.
So what does constitute an un-paid internship? The Ministry of Labour in Ontario has set out guidelines that employers must follow. Some of these guidelines include:
– the employer gains little benefit from the intern while they are being trained
– the intern is not taking the job of a paid employee
– it has been made clear to the intern that they are not going to get paid
– the intern has not been promised a job at the end of the un-paid internship
Now that last one may seem odd because most of the time the intern is working un-paid specifically to get a job at the end of the placement. But, that guideline restricts employers from hiring a student to work un-paid knowing that they will just be working for them in the end anyways, therefore exploiting the labour of the individual.
But there are a lot of positive arguments for partaking in un-paid internships and co-ops if they are done legally.
In today’s unforgiving job market, many students are finding it very difficult to get their foot in the door of their desired industry with just a degree or diploma. Now-a-days, those are a dime a dozen and you need experience to be able to get that entry level job. This is where un-paid internships and co-ops come in to play a huge role for young people.
Bob Smith is the former Station Manager for RogersTV London. He thinks communication is very important between the employer and the student. Similar to what the MOL guidelines set out, he says that the intern must be aware of how long they are going to be there, and that the student must be getting more out of the experience than the employer.
But, Smith is a firm believer that un-paid internships are the experience that many students need to be able to break into a job market that basically requires 5 year experience to even work as a fast-food cashier, with no disrespect to any fast-food cashier.
With the many most employers valuing experience over schooling, having that on-site experience in the industry you hope to break into seems like the right choice for many young people.
With students carrying more financial debt than ever before, while being expected to work unpaid with increasing regularity, it begs the question; how much is too much to pay for experience?