Unpaid internships: To do or not to do?

Photo by Tetsuya Yamamoto.

There’s lots of dialogue online (and offline) about unpaid PR internships.

Ask any of us at SFU Continuing Studies in the PR Certificate Program (among other programs, too) how we feel about unpaid internships, and we will likely collectively respond with "Don’t do it," or "It’s illegal," or "They drive me crazy."

Check if unpaid internships are legal in your area

Unpaid internships are illegal in British Columbia. Do note that every province has its own regulations and guidelines that apply to internships and its own employment standards legislation. Please check your provincial websites and legislation. This humble blog post should not be interpreted as legal advice. We aren’t lawyers.

In BC, if you check our Employment Standards Act, unpaid internships are illegal unless they fall under one of two narrow exceptions:

1) Practicums that offer practical work experience as part of a formal educational requirement

2) Formal training required for certain professions

So, if an internship doesn’t fall within these two exceptions, the intern must be paid minimum wage.

Practicums can be valuable as part of an educational requirement

At SFU Continuing Studies, our PR, Digital and Mobile Marketing, B2B and New Media Journalism programs all require unpaid, full-time practicums as part of an academic/adult educational requirement. Thus, you need to complete the practicum in order to graduate from the program. Practicums are valuable as part of an educational requirement, and we are reliant on the community to help us further develop our students' career skills—but in a guided, protected and monitored environment. And for a very short length of time.

If you are looking for hands-on work experience, try volunteering for a local charity or not-for-profit. Volunteering is a great way to gain experience, build your network and contribute to your community.

About the author

Fawn Mulcahy has over 20 years of public relations experience in agency, client-side and consultation capacities. Currently the senior manager of sponsorship marketing with RBC, she worked on the 2010 Winter Games with both the Organizing Committee and Canwest.

Take a class with Fawn Mulcahy