Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Think I'm Joking About Corporate Feudalism?

Perhaps you think that I'm being somewhat Pollyanna about the issue of corporate feudalism and its rise in both Canada and the US.

I'm not kidding.  This is possibly the most serious issue facing Canadian workers in the last 100 years.

Just as the Temporary Foreign Worker program has served to undermine Canadian workers by supplanting them with people willing to work for much less money, the Unpaid Internship undermines students, educational institutions and workers even further.
University student Samantha Bokma said she was surprised when her job with Tory MPP Rod Jackson ended suddenly in August — she had expected to stay on part-time as his constituency assistant as she had during the last school year 
It was a good front-line job for a political science major: answering phones and doing intake interviews with constituents looking for help. The 22-year-old said she helped write some of Jackson’s monthly newspaper articles. 
“But then they told me they weren’t going to renew my contract because they didn’t have enough in the budget,” said the fourth-year student at Laurentian University’s Barrie campus. She resigned the next day to start looking for new part-time work. 
So she was alarmed a week later to see an ad for what looked like her replacement — without pay. 
“The duties described in the posting are pretty much what I did for pay — answering phones, greeting constituents, preparing correspondence,” said Bokma, 22, who filed a complaint Tuesday with Ontario’s labor ministry, arguing it is illegal for an employer to replace a paid worker with an unpaid intern.
The argument has been made more than a few times that graduates from various educational institutions don't have the "skills" that businesses need.  Therefore, businesses have turned to "Internships" as a way for students to build directly relevant skills up before they graduate.  In my experience, the notion of an Internship (back in the day, we used to call them summer students) is a bad joke in terms of providing practical knowledge and skills.  Frankly, except in the rarest of cases, interns find themselves doing all of the tasks that the rest of the department can't stand doing.  In IT, managing the backups does nothing to develop critical skills.

More recently, we have seen the paid internship turn into the Unpaid Internship.  Same nonsense as before, except the student doesn't get compensated for their efforts.  The claim that companies make is that they have to spend all this money on training the intern, so why should the intern be paid?

It's simple, actually.  The business is training the intern for whatever specific tools they will be using to carry out their duties.  No employee should be held responsible for the training on specific tools.  This is ridiculous.  Ultimately, the unpaid internship model reflects the growing mentality in business that people are an expense rather than an asset.

The expectation that someone who has just graduated from a program has "immediately applicable" skills is farcical.  A university graduate is someone who knows how to learn.  Even in highly focused programs such as Engineering, new graduates have limited skills - they have knowledge and a framework within which to develop further skills.

When a business hires an employee, the employee is making a commitment to that employee to apply their skills and knowledge to that company's business objectives.  Pretty basic, and fairly obvious.  The company is responsible for providing appropriate training for any specific skills that they are demanding.

Ultimately, this is creating an environment where the "haves" in society will be wealthy enough to put themselves forward, and the "have-nots" will find their lot in life pushed further and further down.

[Update 14/9/13]
As if they couldn't sink any lower, a high end hotel is trying make a busboy job an unpaid internship:

Seriously?  Bussing tables is a bottom floor job in restaurants.  The person who takes this job as an intern is going to learn what about the business?

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