The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) recently released a poll revealing that nearly half of students in Canada aren’t getting paid work experience in their field. The 1000-person poll, conducted by Abacus Data was released early last month.
The poll shows that nearly half, 49 per cent, of students aren’t able to secure a paid work placement, primarily because such placements are not accessible through their program.
Additionally, just over half of the current students questioned in the poll have done or currently do unpaid work related to their field of study or as part of their academic program.
“49 per cent of students don’t have paid work experience available for them,” said Manjeet Birk, CASA’s executive director. “This is so important because it pays for school, it helps reduce debt and it helps produce a better outcome after you’re done in terms of planning and employment relevant to your field of study.”
For many students, not getting paid for their hard work in internships or practicums means they often work shorter hours and have to look for other sources of income, says Birk. Therefore, these students aren’t usually getting the full experience they need to secure work once they’re done school or in the very least they are racking up student debt.
“They can’t afford it. If you’re doing an unpaid internship, you aren’t getting the full work experience,” Birk said. “You also need to get paid, so you’ll need another position, that’s probably not in your field of study.”
In order to remedy the situation, CASA wants to increase access to paid work placements for post-secondary students.
“What we would really like to see is a hundred percent work integrated learning opportunities for any student who is interested in doing that,” Birk said.
As such, CASA is currently advocating that the federal government expand the Summer Jobs Program, create a new September to April job program and invest in programs that connect Indigenous and marginalized youth with employers and the labour market. They are also petitioning the government increase access to apprenticeships, vocational training and career education for youth.
Finally, CASA wants the development of a well-coordinated and highly visible school-to-work transition strategy.
“Quite frankly, there are only benefits that come from that, work environments get students who have fresh perspectives, fresh ideas and a really new understanding of how to get the work done,” Birk said. “Once they’ve graduated, they have this work experience behind them and they have an understanding of how their skills can be applied in an actual work environment.”
Here at TRU, the university’s Career Education Department, which runs TRU’s co-op program has made sure that all of its posting are paid, says the Career Education Department’s chairperson Shawn Read.
“When we distill it down to TRU and our department and what our values are, we have elected to cut right to the chase, we have elected not to post any unpaid internships,” Read said.
While some internships and practicums at TRU, such as the nursing practicum, remain unpaid, TRU is doing its part to slowly change the narrative that student experiential learning opportunities don’t need to be paid positions.
“You have nursing practicums, education practicums, social work is another one. They tend to be unpaid, but are built in as part of their program,” Read said. “I think in the long run I’d like to see that change. Wherever there isn’t a practicum already in place, we pretty well offer a co-op.”
For those who don’t already know, TRU’s co-op program is its own one-credit course, which not only prepares you for a paid-position, but teaches you how to be successful and how to deal with conflict in the workplace.
“Experiential helps you find a job, but it also helps to enrich your experience in post-secondary,” Read said. “It makes more meaning of what your studying and learning.”