Youth Speak Up On Youth Unemployment

In In the News, Unpaid Internships on September 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm

MicrophoneToday the Globe and Mail hosted a debate with young Ontarians looking for work on the topic: How would you create jobs for the young and unemployed in Ontario? Internsheep was there (post name: Carley Centen) and it was unsurprising that the topic of unpaid internships arose quickly (without us even bringing it up!).

Andrea Grassi: “[The government] should step in and try to resolve the issue of internships, which force new graduates and undergraduates to live like hobos (crippling social services over time and forcing greater debt). Some sort of subsidizing or tax break for these internships – that includes the private sector – should be proposed.”

Internsheep seconded the call for a temporary, stimulus tax credit for employers that create a full-time job for a  recent (within 2 years) graduate. Some felt tax incentives were a band-aid solution, but as a temporary stimulus program and used in concert with longer-term strategies, the high levels of youth unemployment at the moment need this urgent action.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that internsheep also suggested amendments to the Employment Standards Act as a part of the solution, where unpaid internships could firmly be outed as illegal with employers subjected to stronger oversight.

Carley (Internsheep): @Jennifer: I am looking for a party who will make a statement on how they are going to target youth unemployment. To date, it’s been blanket promises with trickledown assumed for youth. This will not work. Concrete things that can be done are to offer a tax incentive to create a full-time job for a recent graduate and to amend the Employment Standards Act to define what an “intern” is and to crack down on illegal, exploitative unpaid roles.

Others echoed support.

Phill suggested: “Create useful incentives to boost hiring of *PAID* internships (the un/underpaid internship being almost criminal)”

Andrea Grassi:  “And – as I think unpaid internships are being abused – I agree with Carley in that, I would like to see the ESA examine these working conditions. All unpaid roles are exploitative.”

One dissenting opinion was voiced, from Lauren Friese, founder of TalentEgg.ca. TalentEgg is a career portal for recent grads and students in Canada. For full disclosure, it should be mentioned here that Lauren employs unpaid interns to create content for her start-up. Many postings on the site are also unpaid offerings. For more full disclosure, I have been a writer and editor under this scheme, unpaid. While it was overall a good experience and my pieces were often picked up by print publications offering me more exposure, the real benefit and exposure went straight to the organization. I digress…

Lauren Friese: “I think that a full out ban on any and all unpaid internships would have a negative effect on youth employment. While there are, of course, internships that are exploitative, there are also employers that offer unpaid internships in order to offer work experience to someone who has none.

For many employers, unpaid internships are a ‘nice to have’, not a ‘need to have’, and for those employers, banning unpaid internships would destroy the opportunity for students to get experience altogether.”

Happily, most young graduates in the conversation did not accept this logic, which relies on a false dilemma logical fallacy that I have yet to see supported with real evidence. (More on this argument in a future post) Refutations, after the jump.

Andrea: “Lauren: Internships were once valuable ways of getting your foot in the door at a company and getting, what we funnily enough call, a “real job”. But now, internships are being taken advantage of and abused, serving as a way companies, who can’t afford to create new jobs, get work they nevertheless need done at no cost. (I have seen listings for internships which contradictorily sound like candidates need to be highly skilled, like “advertising sales” or “scenic carpenter”.) To answer your question, Jennifer, commuting to the city everyday was an added expense that I wouldn’t have been able to afford had I not lived with my parents while completing an unpaid internship.”

Carley (Internsheep): “@Lauren: We agree to disagree here. The point is, most internships are not offering “training similar to that which would be received by a vocational school” and are therefore contravening the ESA and should be afforded minimum wage and the protections it applies to “employees.””

Maria: “I want to definitely echo what Andrea said… There are many companies, especially in the arts/not-for-profit sector which have a rotating internship. Every four or so months they get a new intern to replace the other one. So, it’s not a foot in the door at all. Yes, it is often invaluable experience, but it is not an introduction into this workplace – it’s just a way for them to have a free position with rotating employees that they don’t have to pay.”

Carley (Internsheep): “Internships that are unpaid are not just an issue of gaining experience – it’s an accessibility issue. Graduates already drowning in student loan debt that can’t afford to work for periods for free are losing out on top opportunities.”

A Boomer also weighed in, in defence of young workers rights. One of the most promising avenues for gaining attention to these issues might come from the fact that Bommer’s are now watching their kids enter this struggle.

Mok658: “As a”Boomer” with 2 highly educated and un/underemployed kids in their 20’s, I feel my generation has really failed to grasp the need to provide opportunities for the next generation. I see an abundance of greed and an unwillingness to “step aside” to open up jobs for youth. Unfortunately we Boomers are “cutting off our noses to spite our face”. Without good paying full-time jobs for young people, who will continue to pay into CPP, OHIP and a host of benefits ageing Boomers will need. As to unpaid internships (since my daughter had to do one), it is nothing short of slavery. Companies should pay at least minimum wage to anyone performing work related duties.”

Personal experience informed frustrated views of having to complete multiple “experiences” before landing a job.

Erika: “I have already completed two industry related internships and I can tell you that, what Maria has brought to our attention is most certainly true. The plus side is the experience you gain and then you become disposable. It is not fair for graduates trying to pay off loans to have to consider multiple internships as a means to create future opportunities. I am moving to Toronto this week to pursue part/time work and yet another internship. What I need, is not more unpaid unrecognized work, but rather someone to take a chance on a talented entry level grad.”

Mel: “@Carley Centen I have had to end volunteer work because I can’t afford to travel. There was one point, when I seriously couldn’t even find the fare to travel to my volunteer work. I’d love to do unpaid internships, but I need to work, also.”

Overall, a very interesting debate.

  1. Hi Carley,

    I’m commenting because I think you’ve grossly oversimplified and misrepresented how TalentEgg works, as well as what our motive is both as an employer and as a career resource for students and recent graduates. I would like to correct the inaccuracies you’ve stated in this post.

    I have been employed as TalentEgg’s editor since the company started publishing content in Feb. 2009, and – full disclosure – I was your supervisor when you wrote and edited for TalentEgg.

    As a full-time, paid employee who is trained in writing, editing and video production, I could easily create the 1-2 posts per day that we publish on the site. However, we think it’s valuable for the students and recent grads who need help with their careers to have access to a variety of voices and experiences, which is why we accept submissions from students, recent grads and expert contributors. Contributors have NEVER replaced paid employees and, in fact, we have a strict company policy against using unpaid interns to replace paid employees, which we also advocate at conferences, in the media, and to our clients when the topic arises.

    We have ALWAYS had paid opportunities available for writers who wish to take advantage of them and, in particular, we have ALWAYS paid writers who produce content sponsored by our clients. We like to create win-win situations – if we get paid, our writers get paid; if we get exposure, our writers also get exposure. The assistant editor program you were a part of was discontinued early because your collective work created more work than it accomplished, also in line with our policy.

    You neglected to mention all the time and energy TalentEgg (and me personally) has put in to helping our contributors, many of whom have successfully transitioned into full-time, paid jobs using the clippings they created while writing for us – I’ve stayed in touch with you and many other former writers/assistant editors to send you job opportunities I come across, edit your resumes and cover letters, and act as a reference.

    We DO NOT offer any full-time, unpaid internships at TalentEgg, and we’ve been at the forefront of improving the employment situation for students and recent grads across Canada since 2008, through activism, media commentary, 100% FREE career resources, and our Student Voice initiative: http://www.TalentEgg.ca/StudentVoice

    The links you have provided to our non-profit and journalism jobs pages also misrepresent TalentEgg and the organizations we work with. The majority of unpaid “jobs” on TalentEgg are actually volunteer/extra-curricular-type positions with student groups that we have partnerships with, and there are literally thousands of paid internships, co-op work terms, summer jobs, and entry-level jobs on the site across every industry.

    You’d be hard-pressed to find many paid student or entry-level journalism jobs anywhere, not just on TalentEgg, because the jobs just are not there. The biggest media organizations in the country do not pay for much of their ad-sponsored content – oftentimes they don’t pay us either. But as a company, we realize it’s not just about money changing hands. There is a lot of value in being aligned with the media organizations we partner with – and we think there’s value for our contributors as well.

    That industry in particular has its own issues to work out, but the jobs will never be there the way they are in engineering, business, etc. It’s a very small industry and, simply put, there are more people trained to do the work than there are jobs. In my opinion, it is largely a supply-and-demand situation in that industry.

    As a recent graduate of one of Canada’s best journalism programs, I completed numerous unpaid internships and so did virtually all of my peers. In fact, the only paid internship I completed was with TalentEgg – the internship that eventually turned into a competitively paid full-time job with benefits and vacation – that I am extremely happy with. So happy that I’ve worked here in various capacities for the past 3 years and I personally believe in this company and what we do every day to HELP students and recent grads.

    In the future, I would encourage you to contact us to confirm how we actually operate. We are and have always been available to answer questions and 100% transparent about the way the company works.

    I understand that you are on a mission to improve internships for students in Canada. However, in my view, change comes from working within a system that already exists to improve it, building credibility while inspiring change. This is what we do at TalentEgg, and we have had a lot of success in both facilitating access to meaningful career opportunities/high quality career resources for students across the country, as well as advocating for positive change in youth employment in general.

    Unpaid internships are just one part of a larger, complex set of systems at work creating problems for post-secondary students and recent graduates in Canada.

    Please feel free to contact me or Lauren directly at any time.

    Cassandra Jowett
    Content Manager
    TalentEgg Inc.

  2. Please know that I meant no harm to TE or Lauren and I appreciate the work I was able to do with you. I simply stated facts: TE employs unpaid interns and posts unpaid opportunities. This fact was relevant for full disclosure to the post as the opinions of those who have experienced unpaid internships were dissenting, while those employing unpaid interns were defending the system. I believed this to be a relevant distinction that I chose to bring up here, rather than in the Globe and Mail debate, in respect for civil discourse. You’ve raised some interesting inferences and points that, as I said, I will respond to in detail within a week.

    I have embarked on this fully knowing that this will not be a popular project and I have further decided to do so without anonymity. The exploitative system of unpaid internships is entrenched in many areas. However, I am heartened by the experience of similar groups in the UK, where MPs are directly debating these topics as a result of people willing to take a stand. It’s a legal issue, a labour issue, a cultural issue, and an issue of accessible opportunity.

    If it makes those who reap the true benefit of this system uncomfortable, then I believe I’m doing something right. However, the ultimate goal is to try to show how this can be positive. We can stand up for the rights of young workers, enact codes of best practices for internships, ensure that the ESA is applied equally, and create meaningful, accessible opportunities for youth and new graduates.

  3. […] suggestions were offered, we got a bit off topic at times, and the problem of unpaid internships arose as a concern for several participants. One dissenting opinion came from Lauren Friese, the founder of […]

  4. […] because I was an unpaid intern as an editor and writer for the site’s e-magazine. TalentEgg responded in the comments section, and I promised to respond more fully to their concerns in a full […]

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