Opinion: RSU’s fight against internships, not a practical solution

Photo courtesy Katie Raskina.

(Courtesy Katie Raskina)

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.

One Comment

  1. Laura Johnstone says:

    Good on Cormac McGee for taking the issue of unpaid internships to the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities. This is an important issue for Ryerson students who must complete a practicum in order to graduate. No one is disputing the value of internships/placements – they are a way to gain experience and apply the theory of the classroom to the reality of the working world. They can also lead to jobs in the future.

    Mr. Cox suggests that the rationale paid placements/internships are inconsistent market forces of supply and demand. I would suggest that it is just these market forces that have transformed the face of work in Ontario whereby it is deemed acceptable not to pay students for work, and to engage in other unfair practices such as contract flipping, paying low wages, and offering only part-time and contract work with no chance of benefits.

    Mr. Cox comments are timely. Currently the Ontario government is engaged in the Changing Workplaces Review to determine how the Employment Standards Act (2000) and the Labour relations Act (1995) can be amended to protect workers and business in a changing economy. This is the time for all students to come together to ensure that their voices are heard. Get in touch with you local MPP, in fact bring as many people from your constituency to his/her office and voice your concerns. Or get involved with the ground swell of movement on campuses across Ontario as students and student unions join the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign.
    In conclusion, Mr. Cox failed to acknowledge that the students in some faculties (social work, early childhood education) pay for their placements Yes, you heard right! This is an unfair burden and it is oppressive.

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