I had a post percolating when the Bank of Canada Governor made the remark that students should work for free in order to gain experience. No. No. No.
In order to become a registered dietitian I had to complete three, 16 week unpaid internship placements. Not only were they unpaid, I actually paid tuition to my university to complete them. We were not supposed to work during our placements as they were essentially full time jobs (plus homework and documentation for the internship program). However, I had to pay rent, and eat, and all of those other annoying necessities of life, so I worked at a part time job on the evenings and weekends. While I’m a little bit resentful about the process, it wasn’t intended to be regular work. As interns we were meant to be learning from other dietitians in the field. We were not supposed to be completing work that should be completed by a paid employee. In some cases, this was how it went. In other cases, unfortunately, it doesn’t. In one of my placements the person who should have been my supervisor had left so I essentially did that job as well as assisting in finding their replacement. This was atypical and not intentional. However, I know of other internship placements at which organizations “save-up” work that should be done by a dietitian for the months in which they’ll have a dietetic intern.
Yes, we all gain invaluable experience as interns. However, we do still have expenses and it’s unreasonable to expect people to work at an unpaid internship without a source of income. It also doesn’t actually help when it comes time to finding a job. Trust me. Nearly every dietitian I know is working several part time jobs, is looking for work, is working in a position only vaguely related to our educational background, or some combination of these three. You can give students all the unpaid experience in the world but if there are no paid jobs after they graduate then it’s not going to help them.
I’m not sure how much this relates to other fields, but in nutrition I also find that because we are so hungry for experience and opportunities that many people and businesses expect us to give away our expertise for free. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to give talks to groups without being offered any compensation. This just leads to a vicious cycle of dietitians working for free.
This is not a case of students needing to spend time volunteering. In order to be accepted to the dietetic internship program we had to have volunteer experience. More than one was the norm. I think that this is the case for many students. On top of full time course loads, and part time jobs, are memberships on committees and volunteer positions.
Even many people who are employed full time should take heed. While there are many wonderful employers out there there are also others who will milk employees for all that they can. I know a lot of people whose salaries would almost certainly be less than minimum wage if they calculated all of the unpaid overtime and lunch breaks they worked through. I think that the trend of judging how hard a person works by the number of hours they put in is dangerous and ridiculous. In most cases, work should be completed during working hours and if extra time is necessary, employees should be compensated. I know that my personal work motto aligns closely with that in the image above.
Everyone should be appropriately compensated for work. Forcing young people (and even not so young people) to work for free isn’t going to solve the problem. The problem is that there are just not enough good jobs.