Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Unpaid 'internships' = exploitation

Here’s hoping you can tear yourself away from the efforts of Rebekah Brooks and her enablers, Rupert and James Murdoch, to destroy the reputations of all journalists.

Let’s discuss another disgraceful topic: unpaid internships at profit-making companies for graduates of journalism schools and other professional programs. They’re very popular these days. There’s even one in Winnipeg journalism.

As my colleague Melanie Lee Lockhart explains, there are good reasons to volunteer for organizations that you support, where you can make a difference.

And many post-secondary educational programs include brief unpaid work placements or internships. These are actually courses for which students receive credit.

Creative Communications, the Red River College program where I teach journalism (damn the Murdochs!), includes two three-week work placements. Instructors match students with employers and survey both sides after each placement to ensure that everyone involved receives value from the experience.

Then the students graduate and look for paying jobs. Paying jobs, just like the ones held by their employers.

Unfortunately, there is a growing trend in Canada toward unpaid internships for students who have graduated.

We pay ’em in experience and networking, these companies say.

Well, pay ’em in money, I say. The experience and networking already are important elements of these traditionally low-paying jobs.

Have the bosses of these students renounced their pay cheques? Are they giving away their entire product at no charge?

Didn’t think so.

Companies engaging in this abusive practice are extremely short-sighted. In a rapidly changing world where workers already exhibit little loyalty to employers and where skills are easily transferable, why would they want to alienate the smart young people on whom their success depends?

The only answer I can see is, “Because we can.”

So that’s why I don’t recommend that a student take an unpaid job on graduation, or even for the summer between school years.

It’s exploitation.

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