Will work for nothing? You’re hired

Put this kid to work. . .for free

Put this kid to work. . .for free

It must be awfully nice up there in his big office, shuttered with gilded blinds that stop the stark light of reality from reaching impertinently to his leather chair. Perhaps that’s why Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz likes to cheerfully blurt the odd absurdity from time to time.

Like this one to reporters in Ottawa on Monday:

“When I bump into youths, they ask me, you know, ‘What an I supposed to do in a situation?’ I say, ‘look, having something unpaid on your CV is very worth it because that’s the one thing you can do  to counteract this scarring effect. Get some real-life experience even though you are discouraged, even if it’s for free.”

Oh sure, I can just imagine Mr. Poloz bumping into “youths”. Why, it happens all the time, don’t you know. In fact, he must be plum tuckered out, what with all the questions about their futures Canada’s young people pose to him each and every day.

Why wouldn’t the $400,000-a-year fat cat throw up his hands in mock exasperation and, in effect, say: “Let ‘em eat cake”?

Or, more accurately, this to the House of Commons Finance Committee on Tuesday:

“Volunteer to do something that is at least somewhat related to your experience set, so it’s clear that you are gaining some learning experience during that period.”

Or this to Liberal MP Scott Brison (who worried that unpaid internships might favour kids from wealthier families, who could afford to stake their progency):

“There are issues like the ones you’re raising. . .but I still think when there are those opportunities, one should grab them because it will reduce the scarring effect, all other things equal.”

And while we’re about parsing Mr. Poloz’s recent ruminations, what is this “scarring effect” to which he refers?

Is it the humiliation of having to live in your parent’s basement because no one will give you a job that pays well enough to cover the monthly let on a cold-water flat down by the docks?

Or is it that empty feeling in the pit of your stomach that refuses to go away because you cant afford anything more nourishing than a tin of peanuts every other day?

Whatever it is, Mr. Poloz is, at least, on the bandwagon. Unpaid internships are all the rage these days.

A couple of years ago, the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom reported, “Firms across the country are increasingly relying on unpaid interns in a bid to cut costs in a tough economic climate, according to a new study. Bosses in the design and digital industry expect more work for less money, leading to fewer permanent staff members and more unpaid interns, according to think tank the Institute for Public Policy

Research, which carried out a survey of 500 agency workers.”

More recently, Susan Adams, a staff writer at Forbes, observed, “As the ranks of the unemployed have swelled and the surplus of jobless college students and grads has grown, increasing numbers of people young and old have been signing on for unpaid internships, wanting to make contacts and accumulate résumé lines that can help them get paying work.”

And according to a CBC report last March, “Unpaid internships are on the rise in Canada, with some organizations estimating there’s as many as 300,000 people currently working for free at some of the country’s biggest, and wealthiest, corporations.

The ranks of unpaid interns swelled in the aftermath of the 2008 economic recession, said Sean Geobey, a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the author of a recent report entitled The Young and the Jobless.”

Still, a backlash does appear to be brewing. “This is not the sort of social contract that today’s kids saw their parents and grandparents grow up under,” Mr. Geobey said. “We’re starting to see Canadians – young people and their parents in particular – seriously question what exactly is going on here, and why are we apparently returning to 19th-century labour practices.”

I’ll make Mr. Poloz a deal. I’ll swap with him for a week. See how he likes it.

Mind you, my job’s not an unpaid internship.

Some days, it just feels that way.


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