Governor’s controversial comments strike a chord at UW

Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz made some controversial remarks promoting the idea that millennials should be willing to accept unpaid work or internships to avoid long-term joblessness.

While speaking to the House of Commons, the governor said the job market should improve within the next 24 months, but for now, unemployed youth should “volunteer to do something which is at least somewhere related to your expertise, so that it’s clear that you are gaining some learning experience during that period.”

There is no surprise the governor’s comments are viewed as controversial in nature within the UW community, where last year alone, 18,300 UW co-op students earned a combined $193 million and gained work experience in over 63 countries.

“Poloz’s statements are unfortunate,” Stephane Hamade, Feds VP education, said. “It is very important that people are paid for their work, especially when considering the effect of unpaid internships on the increasing income gap.”

To help tackle the 13.5 per cent national youth unemployment rate, Feds is working with the provincial government to increase work-integrated learning opportunities in Ontario. If successful, the strategy will open up opportunities that will allow students to get paid experience as they complete their post-secondary education.

Isabelle Duchaine, a candidate for the Masters of Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, wrote an op-ed in the <em>Globe and Mail</em> where she said, &ldquo;Mr. Poloz&rsquo;s comments fail to address the truly terrifying news about the scaring effect: that unpaid internships aren&rsquo;t just for new entrants into the market. They&rsquo;re becoming the norm for young adults brimming with work experience.&rdquo;

She wrote about the &ldquo;frightening cycle of unpaid internship, higher education, unpaid internship, and further education operating in a global level.&rdquo;

In an interview with <em>Imprint</em>, Duchaine said the governor&rsquo;s comments underscore a &ldquo;huge generational issue.&rdquo;

&ldquo;The mass internship industry we&rsquo;ve got was unprecedented even 15 years ago. My concern is that internship becomes an entrenched right-of-passage for young workers.&rdquo;

Duchaine admits she&rsquo;s gained a wealth of knowledge and experience from her internship opportunities, but understands the risks associated in choosing this route to gain experience.

&ldquo;There&rsquo;s this sense that work experience is critical because a larger portion of the population holds undergrad degrees,&rdquo; Duchaine said. &ldquo;To an extent that&rsquo;s true, but universities have complex financial support systems in place to ensure students are receiving a certain quality of education for a specific price. Unpaid internships don&rsquo;t have any of that.&nbsp;I&rsquo;m taking out a bank loan to cover rent and food while I&rsquo;m interning, and I&rsquo;m gambling on my future earning potential to offset my current debts.&rdquo;

Duchaine does not believe the governor&rsquo;s &ldquo;expert&rdquo; remarks will influence future government legislation and industry-wide attitudes towards interns or recent grads entering the labour market in entry-level positions.

&ldquo;I&rsquo;d like to think that Poloz&rsquo;s comments were a bit of a misstep,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s heartening to hear statements from politicians representing different political parties that they disagree with him; Jason Kenney, the federal employment minister, said that he thinks it sends the &lsquo;wrong message&rsquo;&hellip; hopefully those kind of sentiments translate into actual policy change, because this is a hugely problematic grey area in terms of employment legislation.&rdquo;

In contrast, Kashif Memon, advisor of the science and business faculty at UW, finds some validity in Poloz&rsquo;s statements.

&ldquo;Dependent on the situation, it is definitely helpful to gain volunteer experience to be more prepared for the workforce,&rdquo; Memon said. &ldquo;However, Poloz&rsquo;s statements are overgeneralized, and only represent the tip on the iceberg of many greater issues. The internship industry has been created by many companies that actually have the financial means to pay their interns, and these companies should reconsider their creation of internship positions and the economic problems that arise from it.&rdquo;

In a press release, Travis Gordon, board chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) said, &ldquo;Mr. Poloz&rsquo;s comments are not reflective of realities facing today&rsquo;s youth.

&ldquo;Data show that unpaid internships actually have little bearing on ones ability to secure employment in the future.&rdquo;

To prove their point, CASA cited a 2013 survey of 10,000 graduating students who had applied to jobs, conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). According to the survey, 63 per cent of paid interns received at least one offer, while only 37 per cent of those with unpaid internships were offered employment.


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