Experts warn structure of unpaid internships can leave some students short

Complaints that Bell Mobility violated labour laws by not paying interns have shined a spotlight on school programs and potential interns, who should perform due diligence  when considering internship opportunities.

Unpaid internships might be easier to find, but, according to Sheridan College employment counselor Gail Collins, they might not be so easy to take.

“There are absolutely opportunities that are paid and unpaid,” Sheridan College employment counselor Gail Collins told YourMississaugaBiz.com. “But the first thing they should think about is, are they financially able to do the unpaid?”

Collins, who also has 20 years of work experience in human resources, said some companies offer paid internships to avoid the need for would-be interns to make that choice. “They want to avoid going down that road altogether,” she said.

While some employers can’t afford to bring in paid interns, Collins said there are many unpaid positions available though post-secondary institutions actively working with business to place students.

“If they’re part of an educational program I think that would give [employers] a lot more basis for not paying, for the most part,” she said.

Still, students are cautioned to pay very close attention to how the position is advertised and structured before they apply.

Unpaid internships made headlines Monday after two former participants in Bell Mobility’s Mississauga-based professional management program (PMP) made formal complaints to the government.

The complaints allege Bell broke labour laws by not paying its 280 recruits at its Eglinton Ave and Creekbank Road offices for the full-time work that they completed.

The University of Toronto Mississauga’s experiential learning office opted out of placing interns in the Bell program when it was originally presented to them due to a lack of fit with the programs UTM offers.

“The Bell Media experience did not provide a consistent high learning level for the students so we didn’t go ahead with sending, for example, GIS students to that placement,” said UTM’s experiential education coordinator, Jennifer Storer Folt.

According to Storer-Folt, Bell Mobility was also unable to adjust their model to fit UTM’s requirement of 100-200 hour internships, preferably spread over four to eight months. “We would never want a student to be required to do 300-400 hours that was not at an enhanced learning level,” she said, citing the lawsuit’s claim PMP required participants to work 10-12 hours per day over three to four months.

Ultimately, Collins said that in an ideal world, all interns would be paid at least the minimum wage and that there were no unpaid internships. “I think it’s better for everyone involved.”

 

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