Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) “Stop Paying to Work” campaign proposal was turned down last month by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
The RSU vice-president education, Cormac McGee, failed to convince the ministry that funding students’ cost for internship courses for credit is a good idea. That’s probably because it isn’t.
At Ryerson, programs like journalism, fashion and social work include internships that students technically pay for because they’re considered courses.
Recent articles on the topic have quoted students who bemoan the fact that they’re paying money to do work, and how this has disadvantaged them financially.
Such concerns aren’t unreasonable either. Many have to buy groceries and pay rent and other expenses. Footing these bills typically comes from either financial assistance or their part-time job(s).
However, the RSU’s request for the provincial government to pay students to intern is impractical.
It’s easy to come up with emotionally driven explanations for employers not paying interns for the work they do. Fairness, greed and exploitation are common buzzwords used when describing the plight of the intern.
But one concept that’s seldom considered is market forces.
This is a relation between the demand and supply for specific skills. Employers in certain industries are willing to pay employees high salaries if the product or service they create is in high demand.
For example, software engineers receive a median salary of around $85,000. The job title held a 54 per cent growth in employees between 2008 and 2014, according to Canadian Business.
But for those seeking work in other creative industries, the outlook isn’t as bright. There are simply more people from these fields supplying the market with their products and services than there is demand for them.
McGee’s campaign attempts to go against the natural tide of market forces.
The government spending that he suggests would pay for these internships is money that would be taken out of peoples’ salaries. It’s money that’s taken from industries in the private sector that are surviving and profiting by satisfying the market’s demand.
To pull money out of these thriving parts of our economy to put into parts that the market doesn’t desire can be likened to bailing water from a hole in the front of a sinking boat and dumping it in the back of the boat.
If someone wants to sign up for a program at Ryerson that charges for an internship or placement, then that is up to him or her. However, they should not expect the government to cushion the market’s lack in demand for the career they pursue.
This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Feb. 10, 2016.