“It’s a bit of a sensitive topic,” concedes Julien, when I bring up unpaid internships – an issue that, along with youth unemployment, was frequently addressed during the run-up to the federal election and has received widespread media attention throughout 2015.
While critics have suggested that unpaid internships encourage income inequality and expose young Canadians to exploitation, Julien says they’re actually a useful tool for both parties involved – as long as they’re implemented responsibly.
“We’ve actually hired a lot of people from internships who ultimately turned out to be amazing and they had a smooth introduction to the workplace because, of course, you don’t expect the same output from these people, they’re there more for training purposes,” he said.
“Once they start learning and they start being comfortable then you realize who’s really standing out,” he added.
But according to Julien, it isn’t just the organization that feels the benefits.
“Abolishing unpaid internship programs, I think it would be a huge mistake,” he told HRM, “because [the interns] get so much out of it too.
“It would, by nature, reduce the amount of internships available and that would be bad for these people because we’re just going to reduce the number of sources they have available to learn and we should go the other way around, we should make it as easy and as accessible as possible,” he added.
Julien says that while interns may be sacrificing their own time without pay, organizations are using their own resources too.
“There’s an investment, even if it’s unpaid, there’s an investment on the company’s side to provide them the tools, provide them the training, take care of them and introduce them to the workplace,” he told HRM, “and you do all of that just for a matter of a few weeks so very often you don’t even get a return off of it.”
Julien, who is a staunch advocate of supporting youth into employment, says internships can remain successful if they’re operated responsibly.
“We need to make sure that we follow some principles,” he told HRM. “We should make sure that companies are diligent, that there’s no abuse and that our expectations are aligned with the employee.
“I think our point should be to make that happen more often because that’s creating opportunities for everyone, for the employees and for the employers as well,” he added.
“It’s giving people a chance and in return a lot of them will find a job.”
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Last month, Marc-Étienne Julien took the reins at Randstad Canada and as the man at the helm of the country’s largest HR services provider, it’s fair to say he has some valuable insight into the industry’s hot topics – just one of which happens to be highly contentious.