“I think it would be a huge mistake,” says Randstad CEO

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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.

“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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  • Wayne Forster on 2015-12-14 9:44:36 AM

    I also see it as an issue of free choice. If the intern agrees with the relationship, why should government be involved? Yes, employers should not abuse the relationship, but there are workplace laws that protect employees that could be applied to unpaid interns.

  • Cheryl on 2015-12-14 10:42:12 AM

    Hello, Although I agree with the concept of this article, It is not always practiced. There are MANY companies out these taking advantage of people and unfortunately these people are afraid to speak out fearing that it will somehow tarnish their reputation. I have a family member who was in my opinion USED for two years and then "let go" only to be replaced by three interns to do his one job. This experience is in the entertainment field - Just does not seem right.

  • Isabella on 2015-12-15 7:17:05 AM

    I agree ... We have to be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far either way. This is a very valuable opportunity for people of any age when used responsibly but there are so many company that misuse people terribly, use their labour, mistreat them and then cut them lose without a backwards glance. Maybe we need to train the "interns" to have expectations and understand what is reasonable just as we do with Job Safety.

  • Tanya Sieliakus on 2015-12-15 8:22:42 AM

    The vicious cycle for students is they graduate but have no tangible experience on their resumes. However, they need tangible experience to get a job. Some companies are in a position to pay for co-op terms, but not all are so fortunate. Abolishing unpaid intern positions would take away a significant number of skill building opportunities for new graduates. So, how do you get to win-win? Have a position description so that the intern understands what they will be doing and what skill sets they will be building. Fully orient the new intern to the position and accompanying SOPs, the equipment and tools, personnel and safety policies, etc. Regularly complete an Intern Appraisal, recognizing the intern's accomplishments and learning and steering them down a path of continued learning. Document it all. Remember, "learning" is, generally, three levels: introduction to something, familiarization with something and then competent at something. Track the intern at all levels. Finally, for every hour the intern gives the organization should be able to point to an hour of development via the documentation maintained by the company on the intern.

  • Ashley Erikson on 2015-12-16 2:06:58 PM

    I can personally speak to the internship experience at Randstad and tell you the CEO's comments in this article are a joke. There is no training or "investment" involved. You are simply thrown in and asked to complete whatever menial duties are available that the full time staff does not care to do.
    Sure, there is a place for unpaid internships in the corporate world; however, Randstad is not one of them.

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