Internships in Ontario: An Employer’s Guide

Posted on Category: Corporate Culture
Internships In Ontario | Group of young adults

University students, graduates, newly arrived immigrants and even those seeking a career change will attest to the benefits of internships. These opportunities offer individuals the option to network at organizations they would like to work for. They also give them a trial run at their choice of career. For employers, internships feed in a steady stream of low-cost and low-risk entry-level workers. It’s a perfect symbiotic commercial relationship.

History of Internships

The roots of this arrangement in western civilization date back to Medieval ages. Apprentices would pay a master craftsman to live with him and learn his trade. In the early 1900’s, the medical community referred to doctors, who had the education but lacked field experience, as interns. The name stuck and after World War 1, it became synonymous with a doctor-in-training.

In the 1960’s the popularity of internships spread across the business world with educational institutes stepping in to create partnerships. Today, post secondary co-op programs remain immensely popular, with students willing to pay a premium to access them. They forge valuable connections between employers and experiential learning opportunities for students.

Exploitation of Interns

However, everything was not always rosy in this arrangement. For nearly a decade, Ontario witnessed a steep rise in precarious employment. With loose and unclear rules, employers started pushing the spirit of this relationship to new levels. Dream internships morphed into exploited unpaid labour. This made many internships unfair as it limited applicants to those who could afford to work for free. In addition, some employers started using their interns to perform menial tasks, like photocopying and coffee runs, which added little value to their overall training and experience.

Activism set in and groups, like the Canadian Intern Association, came together to advocate for intern rights and law reform. They boldly introduced the slogan “pay your intern” to replace “pay your dues”, a dreaded cliche interns were coming to despise. In 2014, the Ministry of Labour in Ontario began an in depth audit of internships specifically offered in the media and magazine publication industry, finding 50% of them illegal.

The problem with intern exploitation was not limited to Ontario. In 2017, even the United Nations suffered public scrutiny of their coveted internship program, which remained non-diverse. 64% of their interns came from high income countries because of the high costs associated with interning there.

Internships in Ontario

With global attention likening unpaid internships to modern day slavery, in 2017, the Federal Government banned unpaid internships within the federal government as well as federally regulated industries, like banks, airlines and our national media network, the CBC, among others. Around the same period, the Ontario Ministry of Labour clarified guidelines for internships in Ontario, making unpaid ones legal, but under very narrow conditions.

The law considers anyone who performs work for an organization an employee, unless they are in business for themselves. Labelling someone an “intern” does not absolve employers of their minimum wage and remuneration obligations. Internships affiliated with college or university programs remain legal. Employers have a choice not to pay interns, offer them a stipend or pay them at least minimum wage. Employers also remain free to create their own internship programs without affiliations to post secondary institutes. However, the program must place experiential learning for the intern at the forefront and meet ALL the criteria listed below.

  • They must offer training that is comparable to an occupational training school.
  • The intern must benefit from the training and, in fact, the employer should glean little to no benefit while the intern undergoes training.
  • Interns cannot replace the duties of a paid position or take jobs away from someone else working at the organization.
  • Internships cannot come with a promise of permanent employment to the intern at the end of the training.
  • A third party cannot fund this position.

Interns and Corporate Security

If you are considering setting up an internship program at your organization, along with the requirements above, pay attention to matters involving corporate security and your intellectual property. Your interns should clearly understand your internal processes and procedures to ensure they do not inadvertently expose your organization to risk.

In the age of social media this becomes even more important. Many eager interns will want to announce their enviable internship to the world with hashtags #firstday, #newjob, #intern and a proud photo of their corporate access pass around their necks. Nefarious minds can recreate those passes with ease; even if they do not work electronically, they can be flashed at security guards to gain access.

Hackers intentionally seek out the weakest links in corporate security protocol. Often, a fresh new employee or intern provides this access. An individual and company name is sufficient to put them at the receiving end of phishing emails, disguised as innocuous corporate announcements which contain harmful links.

Interns should not be excluded from existing safety and security training simply because they are not permanent staff. In fact, this training should be organized for them on their first day to ensure they do not naively breach safety and security procedures.

Benefits of Internships

When staged properly, internships offer vast benefits to both interns and employers. It allows interns to gain confidence and add work experience to help springboard them through job applications and interviews. It affords employers inexpensive means to try out employees without commitment and adds to their recruitment efforts for future job openings.


Susan Heim is the president of Equity Career Transition and Outplacement Services, offering personalized coaching services for individuals in their quest for the perfect job and career. Equity also provides cost-effective outplacement services for organizations, large and small, in both the private and public sector.

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