HRPA Survey on Unpaid Internships: Right or Wrong?

By Kristina Hidas
VP, HR Research and Development
HRPA

Unpaid internships are on everyone’s mind – most recently, the Ontario Ministry of Labour shut down unpaid internship programs at two print publications, sparking debate over whether it was the right thing to do.  Do unpaid internships, in this case in a competitive industry in which it’s difficult for young people to get a start, provide a valuable opportunity to get a foot in the door?  Or are they sheer exploitation?  The week before last week’s announcement by the government, we asked our membership those same questions.  The answers from the 850 respondents were split – 62% of HR managers said that any kind of unpaid internship that is not part of a training or educational program should be illegal.  Of those respondents who work at organizations that currently offer unpaid internships, almost 60% said they should be illegal, providing an interesting perspective on the issue from those who are familiar with administering it.  While the open commentary to the survey included several arguments that no one is forced to take unpaid internships, most of the opinions expressed were that accepting an unpaid internship is a privilege that very few can afford.

Survey fast facts:

  • Of those HR managers working in organizations that offer unpaid internships, 58% said they should be illegal
  • 68% of HR managers working in organizations with less than 50 employees said they should be illegal, while 45% working in large organizations (with more than 5,000) employees said the same
  • 20% of respondents are concerned that unpaid internships displace paid workers
  • A third of respondents are concerned that unpaid internships only benefit the organization and not the individual
  • A third of respondents have seen the number of unpaid internships at their organizations increase over the past five years

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