Unpaid Internships Are On The Rise: Good Or Bad?

Is the business world of today sending the wrong message to Canadian youth?

While official numbers are difficult to come by, it is thought that unpaid internships in Canada alone run well into the hundreds of thousands. While nobody openly states that they want to abuse the youth of today, most businesses, even those that are on their soap box against unpaid internships, have an unpaid intern or two doing their less-crucial tasks.

The most recent debate was sparked by an ad posted by the Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver, BC Canada. The Waterfront, part of the Marriott family, was looking for an unpaid intern to bus some tables. They used fancy words, rhetoric and hyperbole to say one essential thing: “We want you to come work for us. We aren’t paying. You don’t have many choices.”

This recent explosion in unpaid work is a result of the anemic economy being experienced by the majority of the world. With less options upon graduating, those armed with a new bachelor’s degree and dying for some experience are sinking to whatever low they must to attempt to garner that experience. Cleaning tables at the Waterfront isn’t great experience, admittedly, however when the option presents itself to work for that exciting new NGO or snag that Associated Press job you’ve always wanted, money shouldn’t be the deciding matter. Even if the money is zero. At least, that’s what they want you to think.

While reports on the travesty of these transgressions start flying off the press, they are undoubtedly doing so on the backs of the exact people for whom they are waging this war: unpaid interns. Finding photos, editing columns, and endless formatting late into the night all in order to receive their daily wage of ‘experience’ that may or may not help them in the future all so that we can read about how horribly unfair it is.

While internships are a part of many educational programs, and many end up being unpaid, the real question is this: is the experience received worth the price of tuition? The tuition, in this case, being the amount of time and energy spent growing a business owned by someone else. In certain sectors of business, experience is all that counts. Various careers, such as law careers that don’t require a JD degree, can often be obtained with experience and by ‘putting in the hours.’ This isn’t something you get in school, however it is something that is definitely helped by going to school.

For graduates today, it’s a bit of a chicken or egg situation. Nobody wants to hire someone without experience, however if nobody hires you how can you get experience? The perfect solution for this may be staring us square in the face and nipping at our nose: the unpaid internship. As is becoming more and more prevalent in academia with positions like post-doctoral fellowships and other low or unpaid positions with the main goal to garner experience. Whether you’re Bill Gates or trying to eek out a living in New York on a forensic accounting salary, the facts remain the same: experience is king in life. It’s tough to get but well-worth the struggle… most of the time.