Are unpaid internships for youth now a thing of the past?

For decades, young people looking to garner work experience, learn new skills and prepare themselves for the career they have chosen would work as an intern for a law firm, media publication, entertainment outlet or a hospital. Nowadays, it seems internships are becoming a thing of the past due to outrage amongst a small number of people.

Youth unemployment in the United States is around 16 percent (possibly higher because these are government statistics after all). In order to remain as competitive as possible, many college graduates may get their foot in the door by working as an intern, which many see as a tremendous advantage and opportunity – it’s also a chance to find out if the industry is a right fit for you.

In both Canada and the United States, there have been various lawsuits made by interns for back wages that they deemed was necessary for the tasks they carried out. In many instances, federal judges have ruled in favor of the interns, such as those who sued Fox Searchlight Pictures and and television interviewer Charlie Rose and his production team.

Up in the Great White North, New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Andrew Cash introduced legislation that would crack down on the use of unpaid interns – there are already laws in each province that addresses the issue, including Ontario, which finds unpaid internships illegal if they are not for a course credit or through a high school, college or university program.

CNN has an article out about Conde Nast and how it has announced that it is ending its internship program next year, which has actually upset many students who had hoped to intern for the world-renowned publication.

“Most places won’t hire you unless you have prior internships in the fashion industry. It’s a chance of making it in the industry because you are showing your talents … and you are around the people that could possibly hire you,” said Jenny Giesler, a 19-year-old sophomore at West Virginia University majoring in fashion design and merchandizing, told the news network.

With growing backlash, it is likely that more and more corporations and small businesses will end their internships to avoid lawsuits and negative media publicity. The key question is: why can’t a young person voluntarily work for free for a company? No one is coercing these individuals to work as an unpaid intern. Instead, the government is intervening and trying to make the job market even worse for youth.

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  1. No one is coercing young people to work for free? Except, as you say, youth unemployment is (officially) 16%, and many companies refuse to hire you without prior internships. I would call that coercion.

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