When reading the Toronto Star’s article on the unfair situations MANY interns are put in, I couldn’t help but reflect on what Alex Sevigny, an undergrad prof of mine said early on in my career (4 years ago). I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like this: ” Companies who are for-profit and seek unpaid workers have a weak business model”. Now, while this may sound empowering and may have given me a bit of back bone when looking for jobs, it took me a while before I actually believed it. I was too desperate for work in the field of communications in my final years of undergrad to have enough of a sense of self worth to actually ask for compensation!
When I began working at Cundari, an independent ad shop as an intern for a few months, I was overjoyed at the prospect of landing something where I’d gain experience. Also, I was confused as to why I was being paid. How effed is that?
The leadership team there corralled all the interns and basically said: ” you’re getting paid because we expect good work from you”.
I couldn’t believe my ears, they trusted us.. me …and expected good work?
What gave me the confidence early on when applying for the types of roles I’ve been lucky to have had was the simple fact that someone at the start of my career thought I was good enough to work for them and that my work was good enough to be compensated for.
Yes, I worked hard because I was passionate about the field - as most interns are! That was never an excuse to exploit my labour, it was treated as a kind of a test to see if I could hack it - while still giving me the means to afford the trivial pleasures of rent and groceries.
Eventually I was offered a junior level contract position, and still to this day (4 years later and a series of new roles) I can reflect upon that WORK experience and speak highly of the people early on in my career who knew how to empower those who are passionate about the field.
So, what can I say?
B) I hope more places develop programs to strengthen their budding young talent.