Leah Myers
The Navigator

Leah_head_webIf I had a nickel for every time, since graduating college, someone asked to me to work for free…. Well then I’d probably have enough to pay off all my tuition debt and break even on my camera gear.

I get it though— it’s just the nature of the industry with photography. With an influx of amateurs (and some very good amateurs, at that) who are willing to work to gain experience, why would anyone pay for a professional? While I’m sure there’s a large list of angry newly weds that could testify that cutting corners on the photographer wasn’t the brightest idea, I also recognize the common misconception that paying for a photographer isn’t justifiable when “shooting doesn’t really cost us anything” anyway. Or something like that.

While I was in college getting my photojournalism diploma, I attended a freelance class, where our professor cautioned against working for “experience” (aka free) after graduation. And even though new graduates can’t expect to enter the work field and start at the top, they shouldn’t be working for free in order to gain experience, either.

A CBC article titled “Unpaid bus person internship offered at Vancouver hotel: Fairmont Waterfront Hotel blasted on Twitter over unpaid Interns” detailed an advertisement aimed at culinary and hospitality students and sparked public debate regarding unpaid internships and if they take advantage of students.

How far can established business owners play the experience card on eager young people entering a new field? What price should students and new graduates pay in order to gain this priceless experience? How is it possible to not put a price tag on priceless experience when there’s a hefty price tag on rent, clothing, and food?

As always, more interesting than the article itself, was the comment section. Opinions on the subject divided in both directions:

A user named markmandolin commented:
“Back in the day people with no prior experience would be hired as dishwashers or bus boys. Seems like the tradition of paying actual money for work is dying in this country. So now its called an internship? If its unpaid its slavery and should be illegal. Bullying greedy companies need criminal charges. I will not be dining at the Fairmont.”

Meanwhile, user casino logic said the follow:
“Nursing students (RN) typically take on about 8 weeks of “On the ward” experience called “Consolidation” in the final year alone. Internship by any other name? Employees??? Should they be paid? Students take on full patient loads. Students work day shift or evening shift. Isn’t the hospital (Employer) abusing them as FREE labor???”

Canadian Intern Association (www.internassociation.ca) is a group which, according to their website, “advocates against the exploitation of interns and aims to improve the internship experience for both interns and employers.” The association states that unpaid internships can be problematic and argues that often they “are exploitative (particularly for young people & recent immigrants), lead to lower wages & higher unemployment rates, contribute to socioeconomic, gender, and intergenerational inequality, are typically against the law.”

The association acknowledges, however, that unpaid internships for credit are in a different category: “Unpaid internships as part of a co-op program, or for university or college credit are more likely to be legal in most of Canada’s provinces. However, they do not always provide practical and valuable learning experiences that relate to the program of study.”

The province of British Columbia has also distinguished an “internship” from a “practicum”.

According to the website “An “internship” is on-the-job training offered by an employer to provide a person with practical experience. Often internships are offered to persons who have completed a diploma or degree program and are seeking employment. Completing an internship does not itself result in an academic certificate or diploma.”

As opposed to a practicum which is ““hands-on” training that is part of a formal education process and done for school credit.  A practicum is not considered “work” and therefore not subject to the minimum wage.”

Does this mean that the internship offered by the Fairmont is more acceptable and legal if the student intern is using the unpaid work time in order to graduate, therefore dubbing it, technically, as a practicum? Is there really a bus person practicum?

Also, a practicum by definition is supposed to be a training and education process, which means that persons completing a practicum should be learning something. Which leads to the question: what invaluable knowledge could anyone be gaining during this bus person practicum?

I think user Bort66 has the same question as me, and states it nicely in his comment:
“I don’t understand the need for an intern dishwasher. Internships are supposed to provide a brief introduction to what a particular occupation is like. Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that washing dishes in a restaurant is not that different from washing at home, with the addition of some extra sanitizing rules. Just a wild guess?”

To sum all up all this silliness, I think that as students we work hard enough for our certificates, diplomas and degrees. Let’s not undervalue ourselves and work for free. After all, there has to be limits on priceless experience.