In and around Ontario, the war on internships rages on. It’s been a hot topic in the press as of late since 2 Canadian magazines (Toronto Life and The Walrus) dismissed their interns after the provincial government questioned the ethics behind unpaid youth employment. This isn’t the first time internship drama has made an impact in the media – there was the Fox ‘Black Swan’ lawsuit that created quite a swell of excitement in September 2013 and it’s got me thinking.
As an intern you have an opportunity to prove to a company why you deserve to be hired over anyone else. In J.J. McCullough’s article for the National Post titled ‘Why Internships Should be Illegal‘, he likens unpaid internships to “something [that] can be very good for business yet still ugly and immoral.” He even goes as far as to educate young internship victims (eyeroll) on “9 tips for ending your internship on a positive note”. As a business owner who employs unpaid interns, I regularly come into contact with many people who agree with McCullough’s point of view on a practice that is a personal career choice many young professionals make. A wise career choice, if you ask me.
Allow me to add a personal spin. Internships are something I feel very passionately about – at the age of 15, the indie record label Wind-Up Records Canada gave me my first internship opportunity. I remember driving from Barrie to Toronto to be interviewed in their office and being totally amazed. It was in that moment I knew I was exactly where I needed to be and that this opportunity was a great chance to prove myself and start my long career in music. Three months later I was hired on a contract basis to coordinate Lifestyle Marketing, and from there I continued to weave my way into the fabric of the company. I started my own company three years later (at the age of 18), and Wax Records (ex-Wind-Up) has been one of my longest standing clients. I am not saying there aren’t bad internships out there, and with them bad experiences, but as a young professional it is your responsibility to decide if you are getting what you need out of an internship and leave if it is not somewhere you enjoy doing. At some point as a young adult you are are going to have to learn how to navigate a good or bad opportunity! It will get easier the more of both kinds you come face-to-face with.
Later on, when I sat down to build the strategies I would run my own company with, I knew interns would be a crucial part of the team. At all times we have 4 to 8 interns each working 2 to 3 days a week. More than 50% of my staff is made up of past interns, each having persevered their way into full-time positions. For the right people it’s an opportunity to prove themselves in a place where they can have a direct impact on their own success as well as the team’s. We do not pay our interns, but there are many perks to the position. Our interns show up with smiles on their faces every day!
When I hear the Ontario Government enforcing a loose-y goose law like this one and journalists like McCullough picking a war on a practice that is a personal career choice for each young professional it makes me question their appreciation for freedom of choice and their understanding of the market. When I hear young people rolling their eyes at the practice it just comes across as complain-y and entitled. And typically in my career path I’ve been fortunate to learn that complaining, making your problems about the system, and avoiding the basic act of putting your head down and working hard will ensure you’re the only one left frustrated. I’m a big believer in the idea of natural selection in terms of hard work. The world is made up of natural selection. You can say that the opportunity wasn’t fair (and you’re right) and you can say that everyone should be equal (but they’re not) but none of that matters. If you can work hard, and I mean really truly hard, you can overcome any set backs and make a difference. You can be successful. And isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day? By whatever standards we choose to define success, that is.
What I do love about the music industry though – and I know everyone wants to whine that it’s corrupt (more complaining) – is that there is a great sense of natural selection. Those who work hard, write great songs, and have a great strategy usually rise to the top. They are usually rewarded for their talents while the complainers sit back in their basements making their issues about everyone else except themselves. Time and time again the people who put their heads down and stay focused all of the sudden find themselves towering over the rest. Sure there are flukes and exceptions but I have no time to worry about those.
Reporter Andrew Coyne at The National Post, who has been considered an “apologist” by McCullough, raises some great points in his article “Government Crackdown on Unpaid Internships Hurts Interns the Most“. He states, “The [internship] programs are always oversubscribed, to the tune of 10 applications for every one accepted. The government claims to have been acting “on a complaint,” but it sure didn’t come from the interns. Rather, it appears to have come from somewhere in the NDP-union-activist complex, and with an election coming… No one puts a gun to the head of the people (interns).”
I agree with Andrew’s viewpoint here 100%. With laws like this we are going to lead ourselves to an even bigger problem – young “professionals” who actually don’t know how to work hard and prove their value in an increasingly competitive market. If you find a company you like and you can see yourself building a career there, then it’s up to you and only you to rise above any obstacles and make yourself an indispensable part of their team. The interns or volunteers who can do this probably won’t be interns for long. I’m not saying that becoming successful requires working for free or being ‘taken advantage of’. I am saying it takes a lot of hard work, and as a young person given the opportunity to prove yourself, don’t get hung up on semantics and work hard.
Learn to work the system to your benefit, or instead of strategizing your way into a successful position you can sit around and complain about unpaid internships. Meanwhile success is passing you by.
If you ask me, the only consistent and honest thing you can really believe in is hard work. I made this decision at a very young age. I mean HOURS of head down – weekends, late nights at your desk, writing, executing, calling, fighting for what you believe in, and strategizing. To clarify – this is what I mean when I say ‘hard work’. If you love what you do and feel good doing it money should be far from mind.
If you want to find ways to get out of working hard – whether it’s complaining about interning, inflicting laws or opinions to influence the youth of today and their internships, or any other distractions you deem worthy in your life – no one is going to stop you. But rest assured no one is going to look back to help you when you are left feeling frustrated and undervalued in your career and life.
Or perhaps – if you’re one of these people who feel entitled to a great job but don’t feel like doing much of the work needed to get there – may I suggest a relocation to France. They have inflicted a ban on work related web browsing and emails after 6pm. You can soiree while the rest of the world gets ahead and makes important decisions when they’re needing to be made.
Do yourself a favour and start to do whatever it takes. Prove your value and the rest will fall in to place. Hard work speaks louder than any of this.
Call me an ‘apologist’, sure, as long as it’s second to ‘successful’.
Sari Delmar is the Founder and CEO of Audio Blood, Canada’s leading creative artist and brand marketing company. Through unique PR and promotional packages, Audio Blood continues to be on the cutting edge of music marketing and promotion. Their client roster includes the likes of Pistonhead Lager, PledgeMusic, Iceland Airwaves, Canadian Music Week, Riot Fest, Beau’s All Natural Brewing, The Balconies, Ben Caplan, and more. At the age of 24, Sari leads a team of 10 out of the company HQ in Toronto, Ontario, has spoken at a number of music conferences and colleges, and sits on the Toronto Music Advisory Council. Read more from Sari at SariDelmar.com