Unpaid internships support an imbalanced employment system

Image by: Tessa Warburton

School credit doesn’t pay the bills. Student interns deserve compensation for their work. 

For students, some of our best opportunities for advancement in our desired career fields are internships. 

Internships are competitive and extremely coveted because they provide us the chance to prove ourselves as young professionals. Having internship experience on your resume shows future employers that you’re a trustworthy, hardworking, capable candidate who has succeeded in the professional workplace before. It demonstrates that you’ve cultivated transferrable skills, and that you have a solid work ethic. 

These opportunities also afford us the added benefit of making connections with people who will be reputable references for us in the future. 

However, the competitive nature of these internships makes it easy for many employers to exploit the demand for reputable internships and offer unpaid positions. 

Occasionally, interns are offered school credit in lieu of proper payment. In Ontario, unpaid internships are illegal under the Employment Standards Acts. The internships that give school credit in place of monetary payment are able to do so by qualifying it as educational training. 

The experiences gained from unpaid internships are valuable, and they can pay off in the future in the form of competitive resumes and successful job applications. Unfortunately, these opportunities assume that interns will have the means to support themselves throughout the duration of the internship without a paycheque. 

For some, this could mean being supported by their parents until they get a paying job or working a second job to make enough money to pay their bills.  

Too often, the only people who are financially secure enough to accept unpaid positions are those who have alternative support. Students from low-income families and financially independent students automatically face a disadvantage, and are likely unable to pursue the same opportunities as others. 

Unpaid internships allow employers to avoid additional expenses by not paying fair wages to young employees, all while contributing to a system that fails to offer upward mobility to low-income students and recent graduates. 

This practice perpetuates a culture of privilege in the workplace and promotes an elitist society that often excludes marginalized communities. 

Studies show that businesses’ diverse staffs see more success and profitability. Failing to extend valuable opportunities to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds by not offering them the means to support themselves is clearly a detriment to industries as a whole. 

While interns aren’t always certified or well-versed in the type of work they’re hired to do, this doesn’t warrant denying them payment. Hard work deserves and requires compensation. 

Unpaid internships are an unsustainable and unethical practice that needs to end. Students should be viewed as valuable assets to the businesses they intern in, and paid accordingly. 

Brittany is The Journal’s Arts Editor. She’s a fifth-year English student.


Student life, unpaid internships

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