BY CATARINA MUIA
With tuition and the cost of living constantly rising, it can be hard for college students to find the balance between school, and working a part time job. Add an unpaid internship into the mix and it can become overwhelming.
Completing a required number of internship hours at a company related to one’s field of study is mandatory to graduate for all degree programs and some diploma programs at Sheridan.
“We at Sheridan are using the word internship to mean the mandatory work term that we’re required to have in our degree programs,” said Cory Latimer, manager of co-operative education at Sheridan.
There are very rare exceptions that employees are not “entitled to all of the rights under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) including minimum wage,” as it says on the Canadian Federation of Independent Business website. Completing an internship for a school credit is one of those exceptions.
“If the opportunity is part of a formal post-secondary program, there’s no minimum wage requirement. However our team strongly believes that our students should be compensated for the work that they’re doing,” Latimer said.
Amanda Spilker, 23, a second-year Sheridan Bachelor of Interaction Design student, is preparing herself for what might be her second unpaid internship in college.
Spilker, a graduate of the college’s now defunct Print Journalism program, completed a month-long unpaid internship at Corus Entertainment to earn that diploma.
“I can understand the pros of being an intern, but I don’t see the pros of being unpaid,” said Spilker. “The fact is, you’re doing all the same work for no money and they expect you to be grateful because they gave you that opportunity. “It makes me sound so ungrateful that I worked there. I wasn’t ungrateful for the experience, it was that they took advantage of me.”
She explained that sometimes she would be getting work handed down to her from other employees, so she was doing more work than the people who were getting paid to be there, and although she gained valuable experience, it was an entire month that she could have been getting a paycheque.
“I have a huge OSAP debt. It’s towering over me, and I have to pay rent.”
Now, in the Bachelor of Interaction Design program, Spilker is again required to complete an internship to graduate, and fears that it will be more time she won’t be making money.
What makes it worse is students can’t always carry a part-time job during the school year due to heavy and stressful homework loads. So adding what could be another one to four months at a full-time, unpaid internship, delays students’ abilities to start paying off growing bills and debt, and can add more stress to graduating students.
Latimer explained that one of the co-op team’s biggest goals is to get students in the degree programs into a paid internship. If a student decides that there’s an unpaid internship that will give them a better experience and better opportunities, “we look for three things. One is that the student will derive greater value from the experience, and then the industry partner. So the balance and benefit should favour the student,” said Latimer.
“Two, the student should be receiving training and education similar to an academic program, and three, the student shouldn’t be doing work that would normally be assigned to a paid employee.”
Although right now this is the way it is and many students might not get paid for working at an internship to earn their credit, Latimer said that “having students get paid is a common message we are trying to share.”
He explained that it takes time to change something that has been ingrained a certain way for a long time, but it can be done, and Sheridan isn’t alone in wanting to make sure their students are getting compensated for their hard work.