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The Problem with Unpaid Internships

Myself and thousands of other students consider getting a job out of university as their number one priority. However, a lot of internships require a certain amount of experience beforehand. Typically these are internships in a variety of fields. Frustratingly enough, according to university career counsellors I’ve encountered, the best way to gain this experience is with other internships. It was described to me as an opportunity to learn about a prospective business and find out if you enjoy the role in which you were brought on. Yet, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing tuition rates and cost of living, it is unrealistic and oftentimes impossible to accept an internship, as most of them are unpaid. The University of Western Ontario needs to amend its internship program as most of the internships offered are unpaid. Internships often require a four or eight-month commitment at full-time status, often taking on multiple roles at a company. Time Magazine’s article titled “How Internships Replaced the Entry-Level Job” states that 60% of all internships are unpaid. Internships have become so prevalent in our society that they are replacing entry-level jobs, making it almost impossible for an individual to be hired by an organization without going through an unpaid process. While an intern may gain experience in their desired field and network within the industry, it is unrealistic that anyone would be able to sustain themselves during those long contract commitments. Instead of hiring dedicated workers committed to the job, organizations offering these unpaid internships have interns that often work multiple jobs to sustain themselves.

There is an assumption here that interns have the financial resources, family, or friends to fall back on during this working period –– especially amid a pandemic. It is a privileged approach to structuring the job market. BIPOC communities are specifically discriminated against by this structure because they often lack the resources to accept unpaid internships due to their upbringing in a low-income household with little to no financial support. Not only are unpaid internships unethical, but this type of ‘employment’ is part of the system that works against class mobility. Not only will this change benefit students, but it will increase the applicant pool for the internship program and draw more attention to the Internship programs as a whole.

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