Unpaid internship: Slave labour?

provided by Madelaine Dantas

Madelaine Dantas placement student at the Children Wish Foundation.


It is the last semester of school at Durham College, (DC). Dark clouds are looming and despair can be seen on many faces. Some are worried they might not secure a placement, this is an opportunity to work hands on in the industry to gain experience and to enhance resumes. The few who are lucky enough to have a placement can breathe easily. The not so lucky ones are on brink of giving up and their future is uncertain.

DC has more than 100 full-time programs. For all the three-year programs, field placement is a requirement. In the School of Media, Art & Design, six out of the 18 programs require placement for graduation.

“It’s kind of hard when you have placement, then you have school and then work. That’s the time when something has to take a backseat burner,” says Sarah Bella, a Social Services student in her second field placement stint.

Her internship allows her to have hands-on experience dealing with at-risk youths. During those moments is when time management comes in, according to Bella. Even though her part time job had to come second to her placement at a family court clinic, Bella says it was a great experience.

For many students, internships or field placements are the start of a career. This is an opportunity to gain some experience in the real world. Yet unpaid internships have become an issue in recent years. Some people are concerned businesses are taking advantage of their interns.

Unpaid internships can be time-consuming. With no pay and expenses such as transportation, some students say it is a financial sacrifice that could or could not pan out.

According to a 2014 Forbes article, hiring rates for people who completed unpaid internships were 37 per cent and those with no internships were 35 per cent. At a staggering 63 per cent, those with paid internships were more likely to get hired.


Greg Murphy, the dean of the school of Media, Art & Design, says the school wants students to have all the necessary tools for success. This is the reason DC has mandatory internships for programs such as Contemporary Web Designing, Public Relations and Journalism.

“We do that so you have a real life sense of what it is like in a professional setting, we put you in an environment where you take all you learn in an academic setting and put it in real life experiences, “says Murphy. “We want you to have all of that to make it in competitive fields such as PR.

Madelaine Dantas is a DC student in the Public Relation program and is currently doing a field placement as per her program pre-requisite. For Dantas, her unpaid internship at The Children’s Wish Foundation is a dream come true. She has learned so many things, which she says she will carry with her into the real world.

“I am doing a lot right now and it’s been good. I feel like I am getting a lot of hands on experience,” says Dantas. Right now the Foundation is putting on an event and Dantas is helping with PR.

 Photo by Euvilla Thomas Madelaine Dantas rested up for her field placement at Children Wish Foundation.

According to a 2014 article in the Toronto Star, unpaid internships have risen in Canada as graduates try to get a reference for their dream jobs.  According to that same article, there are thousands of people working at prestigious organizations for free.

Yet Education Developer at DC, Anna Augusto Rodrigues, says the school sends students out on field placement because it leads to job opportunities.

“I would say 60 to 70 per cent of our students are finding part-time positions based on contact and experience through field placement,” says Rodrigues, a professor who initiated the Broadcasting – Radio and Contemporary Media program at DC.

While Rodrigues believes internships lead to jobs, according to a 2013 report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), Sean Geobey shows roughly about one in two young people are able to secure a paying job from an internship.

The reason for the rise in unpaid internships also links with the rise in the unemployment rate in Canada. Dantas hopes to use her placement experience to get a job to avoid the unemployment plague that has taken over the world since the recession; although Statistics Canada has shown the unemployment rate in Canada dropped 6.8 per cent.

In 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Labour requested Toronto Life and The Walrus Magazine end their internship programs due to unfair labour. This shows organizations are relying on interns to do a lot of work for free. Both organizations were taking advantage of interns knowing students need some experience in the field they hope to turn into their career.

In 2016, the federal government requested to know why certain organizations were not paying their interns. The review was requested by Scott Brison, the president of the Treasury Board of the federal government.

According to the Canadian Intern Association, interns are entitled to wages and other workplace protections unless they are students. The reality comes in when the unpaid internship is over. What is the next step for the student who had to quit their part-time job to make the interning opportunity work?

According to Bella, who interns at the family court clinic, placement can be hard but she makes it work. “I do work part-time and go to school… if I didn’t have that internship, I wouldn’t know how to talk with youths. I wouldn’t have that experience if I was only doing theoretical work.”

Some unpaid internships come at a high cost. Interns at these big organizations are made to do minimal work, which has no impact on their intended field. Unpaid internships are really time- consuming and take advantage of young people looking to get a job.

“I had a friend who was interning for Community Living and all she did was lunch for the clients,” says Bella.   This is clearly not enhancing the student’s résumé or giving them any hands-on experience.

Not all interns are learning valuable work skills, especially if their only hands on experience is preparing lunch.  However, there is change in the air.  The media outlet, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, has a paid internship program for Aboriginal students. This is done in order to help foster more First Nations voices represented in Canadian media. Although this is not for everyone, the negative experience some students have had at their field placements may soon be relegated to history.

But as the final weeks of the semester come into view, students are getting ready to go on placement. Some may just be lucky enough to find a job.



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This is Euvilla Thomas, she is a second year journalism student at Durham College. She writes about a wide range of subjects which includes Campus events, entertainment and educational stories for the Chronicle. She loves reading and writing short stories in her spare time. She hopes to cover news and music events at any broadcasting radio station. Currently she is writing for the Chronicle and producing short segments for the Chronicle Riot Radio show.