Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced $40 million over three years to help fund 3,000 private sector internships for grads that will be paid.
The federal government announced $40 million toward 3,000 paid internships in “high-demand” fields.
The money, earmarked in February’s budget, will be spent on paid work for recent grads in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the skilled trades as part of the government’s youth employment strategy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday in London, Ont.
“Some young graduates hit the classic catch-22 situation: to get the job, they need the experience, but they cannot get the experience because they cannot get a job,” Harper said at Fanshawe College.
Skilled trades, the health science field and “engineers of all kinds” will especially benefit, Harper said. The private sector internships will be funded through the National Research Council and the government’s Career Focus Program between 2014 and 2016.
Asked by reporters whether he was uncomfortable with too many unpaid internships in Canada, Harper said his government was addressing the specific problem of “young people getting their first foot in the door in some skilled environments that are in high demand.”
It’s estimated there are over 300,000 unpaid interns in Canada, with 100,000 of those in Ontario alone. No federal or provincial agency keeps track, although a private member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Andrew Cash last year would introduce measures to monitor internships across Canada.
But critics say the money won’t address that and other underlying problems.
“The tide is certainly turning, but more needs to be done in terms of law reform and enforcement of the laws already on the books,” said Joshua Mandryk, spokesman for the group Students Against Unpaid Internship Scams, which has lobbied the Ontario government for changes.
“The good news is that politicians of all stripes are being forced to listen and take action.”
Amending federal labour laws — which do not specifically address interns — would be the biggest improvement, said Claire Seaborn, president of the Canadian Intern Association.
“If the federal government really did want to deal with the unpaid internship issue … they would have amended the Canada Labour Code by now,” she said.
The money will also likely benefit men more than women, Seaborn said, since more men work in the skilled trades and engineering. According to a study from the University of Victoria, over two thirds of unpaid interns are female, mostly from media, public relations, entertainment and advertising industries.
In Ontario the provincial labour ministry has recently cracked down on illegal unpaid internships, especially in publishing.