What I didn’t do this summer

Internships, or how I learned to stop worrying and love working for free

Summer is almost over and it wasn’t a vacation for everyone. I was reminded when I read this article about unpaid work and underemployment. It especially hit home since it was written by and features some of my former classmates. Previous summers in university, I split between searching for internships, doing unpaid internships, searching for menial jobs and working menial jobs–usually all at once.

I never expected to get a job with my degree alone. In the journalism industry, it’s practically unheard of. However, where and where is the limit? How long can you work a part-time job to fund your unpaid internship and foot the expenses of daily life? How many new lines on your resume do you need add before you can finally get a paying job in your field of study? Intern culture is here to stay and at the expense of the unpaid. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of good internships with great opportunities to learn and network. But for every internship, it feels there are five “internships” offered by companies with a revolving door of new interns and no intention of hiring. Employers don’t even need to hint at the possibility of getting hired. Interns now assume they won’t be hired but will do the time and hope it makes a difference next time they send out their CV. This isn’t new or a product of the recession, in fact, it’s the only system I’ve known since I started university four years ago.

One of the most dangerous things about a recession are the attitudes it breeds in workers towards themselves. Today you have to be thankful that you have a minimum wage job because someone in your graduating class hasn’t found one yet. It’s common to hear casual comments that striking workers should be fired because others would love to have their jobs. (Toronto garbage, York University, Ottawa bus strike–take your pick.) Putting feelings about unions aside, we’re headed down a slippery slope of devaluation of work and the worker. It’s an unpleasant destination but one too many people seem only too determined to go down.