An article I wrote for the Vancouver Sun about the practice of unpaid internships in the Vancouver startup community:
Agreed, HootSuite has reached a point that they should be paying interns. Just because you act like a start-up doesn’t mean you are one. See: Google.
However, internships are an important resource for Vancouver’s flourishing start-up community. The buzz on HootSuite’s intern debacle has injected fear of retribution that true start-ups simply can’t afford to incite. There’s a general consensus that nobody will be hiring interns for their startups anymore. Even an unpaid internship isn’t in the budget.
Unpaid internships are difficult. Many interns will spend their savings in order to gain some experience in a field they love. Others will add to a heavy student debt. I’m grateful for the time I spent as an intern: I wouldn’t be where I am today without the opportunities I had during my internship. The balance must come from the company mentors: the cost of the internship period is a difficult choice to stomach when your learning is work. But if you come away from an internship with a stronger understanding of all aspects of a business, and have had the opportunity to participate across them, you’ve gained access to a network of forward thinking individuals and positioned yourself as their peer.
These internships also provide an amazing opportunity for startups, and not just as free labour. The startup scene gets access to a new face and bright mind. This is essential: we want to keep our start-ups accessible. Internships may exclude people financially, but they are so intelligently inclusive.
Now, there’s a feeling of concern making its way through the startup community. A number of startups in Vancouver have frozen their internships fearing a knock on the door from the BC ESB. Instead of creating new avenues of opportunity and early growth, we are barricading them.
We talk so much about supporting local business in Vancouver. Yet ‘scandals’ like this intern debacle shifts focus away from local growth and promotes brain drain. Larger companies scoop new talent or people seek opportunity elsewhere, diminishing entrepreneurial spirit. These companies reel in the vast majority of new talent, and we’re left to witness the discouraging pit of the corporate world.
Startups are a place for ambition and innovation. Giving people the opportunity to pursue their passion shouldn’t be held hostage by outdated government regulation.
These labour laws are as outdated as the government outfits that are running them. Change is happening and new ways of doing business are sprouting up. Current labour laws only take into consideration the corporate model; this needs to change. We hear it all the time that eating local is the sustainable way to live. With a spotlight on this subject, there’s a great opportunity for change.