Should unpaid internships end? HR industry seems to agree

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As the Ministry of Labour cracks down on unpaid internships in media companies, HR professionals are responding with strong criticisms of the practice.
 
“[I] absolutely believe that unpaid internships should be discontinued, I see this as a means of business taking advantage of people who are desperate to get a job,” HRM reader Janine wrote.
 
For an unpaid internship to be legal it must meet strict requirements, including the condition that the employer should not benefit from the internship and the intern must not replace an employee. Some HRM readers suggested there was not enough program oversight.
 
“I think that the issue of unpaid internships is not being properly monitored by HR departments. While there is certainly tremendous opportunities for an intern to gain the relevant KSAOs of the job and occupation and not to mention the potential networking opportunities it provides; I have seen first hand where interns have been abused because of the fact that they are seen as ‘free labour,’ " HR professional Karena said.  “Most internship programs are not clearly defined and thus leaves the door open for exploitation of free labour by members of an organization.”
 
The reaction matches the results of a recent HRPA survey that finds 62% of HR professionals think unpaid internships that are not tied to education or training should be illegal. A third of those surveyed said such internships only benefit the organization, not the intern.
 
“When educational institutions charge tuition fees for programs that will not lead to employment other than internships, it tells you something about the disconnect between education/training and the needs of business,” Andrew Barker says. “Part of the problem is that employers have decided that families and the state are responsible for training. In effect, both the educational institutions and the employers are in an "unholy alliance", driven by self-interest.”
 
A number of HRPA respondents raised concerns that unpaid internships provide an advantage to wealthy young people who are supported by their families while working for no pay, survey author Kristina Hidas, HRPA’s VP HR Research and Development, says. “Many members said unpaid internships should exist within specific frameworks:  that they be run as part of a larger educational program; be limited in length of time (i.e., three to six months); and offer compensation for expenses like food and travel. And that the role of HR professionals can be pivotal in brokering internships that benefit both the employer and the individual.”
 
 
  • Tom from Burnaby BC on 2014-04-13 5:06:36 PM

    I did free internship in a job many years ago and did a good job.

    when the owner found out I was not paid he immediately paid me and apologized on behalf of the manager he let go.

  • kb on 2014-04-14 9:18:24 AM

    I think the days of unpaid internships are over due to the exploitive nature of some internships but I think it is a shame that at the same time many excellent training opportunities will be lost as a result of this change. For students who have been paying tuition to attend school to come out with no relevant experience and have the opportunity through an internship to obtain good on the job skills, contacts and other assistance that will make it easier for them to land a good job when they are through, albeit unpaid, this will be a great loss.

  • Sandra on 2014-04-14 12:06:38 PM

    The organization simply needs to pay the intern. This will resolve the issue. The organization is not entitled to free labour. Would the organization give their product or service away free of charge?

  • George on 2014-04-14 12:59:23 PM

    This practice is all too often simply free labour. There are clear provisions allowing educational work experience which benefits the student and does not impose any direct cost on an employer. These are part of post secondary programs in many fields right across the country. In addition, most colleges and universities offer and promote co-op programs which enable students to acquire initial experience in their fields. The federal government often supports these through YCW or other programs. Unfortunately, the freebie that unpaid internships are has just been too tempting for too many employers who look for weak justification for their actions after the fact

  • Tom from Burnaby BC on 2014-04-20 12:47:07 PM

    If an employer takes on an employee in internship or under the table the company may be on the hook for worksafebc premiums.

    There is always a cost to doing business. There really is no free lunch.

  • WYC on 2014-06-09 4:58:05 AM

    I am working free marketing internship for a company now and I successfully fourfold the company website traffic by selecting different Google AdWords keywords under the same budget. The manager knew my work but do not appreciate my work, and do not want to pay me, why? Because he knew that he could take all the credits, continue my work after 3 months without paying me, and enjoying the result of my hard work.
    The world is unethical, and not all the bosses have the conscience to reward the interns. Anyway, that's just what happened to me and I totally support unpaid internship should be end!

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