Apprentice. Intern. Slave.

The employment climate for many students and graduates has been a difficult terrain to not only navigate but also survive. And slavery masked under labels of ‘apprentice’ or ‘intern’ only make it worse.

Infographic: The 99% vs. The 1%,

Infographic: The 99% vs. The 1%,

Bogged down with insurmountable student debts, and often forced to take remedial positions to make ends meet, many of this educated generation are enticed by intern or apprentice programs – hoping that their volunteered time could break them into their fields, making them some real money. However, with the rising cost of living most are unable to dedicate much to these mostly unpaid positions, or fall deeper into debt when they do.

The Hollywood Reporter published an article Thursday, outlining a class action suit taken out by many of Hollywood’s unpaid workers against a multitude of movie giants, notably Fox, NBCUniversal and Viacom, with the latter two agreeing to pay their bottom barrel workers. Even millennial darling Lena Dunham came under fire after it became known that her book tour performers were working unpaid. She has since agreed to pay them, but only after a public outcry. A move I find amusingly hypocritical, considering the show that made her a household name often focuses on post graduate employment or lack there of. I thought ‘art’ imitated ‘life’, Ms. Dunham, or is that only when you’re broke?

Here in Canada, the Toronto Star, CBC and even Global News have shed a spotlight on intern financial and even personal rights. And while advocacy groups like the Canadian Intern Association are here to support them, will amending the minimum wage act to include intern and apprentice positions really solve the problem or create a multitude of new ones?

Working for free is not a new concept to me, if I have to hear “I can’t pay you, but it’ll be great for your portfolio” one more time, somebody is getting punched. But the bigger problem is not whether or not interns should be paid at least minimum wage, it’s why there are no paid positions in the first place.

This generation, generation screwed, is the first in modern history to be worse off than the generation preceding it. And yes we can continue to blame an aging population that is draining the pension pot, or a global economy that has shipped jobs over seas, or even the apathy that is assumed so many young workers have towards trade labor. And though these could and I’m sure are contributing factors, it’s the expanding income inequality gap that has screwed us.

As long as the loyalty of big business rests solely with shareholders, layoffs will continue, work hours will grow, employment opportunities will be scarce and “living to work” will be the mantra of the masses. So we can continue our state of denial. We can continue to take slave positions labeled intern or apprentice. We can tell ourselves that what we’re doing will be good for our CV’s and portfolios. Or we can hold the lawmakers accountable for allowing big business to destroy the economy. And demand, that here in Canada, we work to live.



The Road to Employment

Exaggeration has always been part of story telling, particularly of days long past. My father would grumble of ‘kids these days’ not knowing real difficulty if it bit them in the ‘tukus’ in an attempt to teach me a life lesson.

A favorite anecdote of his was him having to walk some ten miles to school through a twenty foot snow drift with no shoes over broken glass – a doubtful scenario, but effective nonetheless. My in-laws once disclosed that when they graduated from university in the 1960s’, they were immediately offered a job in their fields. Both of these accounts seem ridiculously unlikely. The sad thing is, one of them is true.

Here in Canada we have national healthcare, top-tier education, and a beautiful and cared for landscape. We also have long stubborn winters and a bitter lack of decent employment. Graduates find it more difficult with each year to secure meaningful work in their respective fields, often opting to move back home and taking what is available – minimum wage part time positions. Or baring that, these fresh-faced professionals travel abroad to up and coming markets in second and third world nations where speaking English is equally as valuable as your undergrad. I can tell you from personal experience, choosing between paying your debt and unpolluted air is not an easy choice to make.

Employment prospects in Canada have been on the decline since the 2008-2009 recession, and part time positions have been on the rise as companies have cut back to prevent or balance losses. Unfortunately, many late twenty to thirty-somethings are left serving fries with one hand while clutching a degree with the other. This leaves me to wonder if that undergrad I spent four years laboring over (and another ten to pay off) was no more than a glorified high school diploma.

A post-secondary education was a promise of a middle class existence. Academia was a window to a comfortable life. But, with a market saturated with degrees and a system only accountable to shareholders, more and more Canadians are left with a mountain of debt and no means to work it off.

Kids these days may not have to endure the same inconveniences as generations before them. But many of us do grow up unable to follow in the footsteps of our parent’s good intentions. And like many stories of days past, the one about a fruitful job market has sadly been left in the dust of nostalgia.


In Ontario, the Teachers Get Thrown Under the Bus… then backed over and dragged by the bus..

Dear Margaret*
As unfortunate as it is that Jill, and her peers will most likely miss some adolescent milestones like their proms, or even weekly extracurricular rituals this school year, you are missing the point. To proclaim that students are being “thrown under the bus due to the teachers and their union’s opposition to Bill 115 is a vast overstatement. There’s a bigger picture at stake here, stakes that are much less trivial than a prom.
It can’t be denied that the teachers union and the government have had a long arduous and at times operatic relationship (a relationship that the government has broadcast during financial turmoil – creating opposition between the public and its educators). Nonetheless, the teachers have long been deprived of value in their jobs.
The two most beneficial contributing factors to a well-rounded country are public healthcare and public education – when people are healthy and educated the economy is strengthened with the long term financially fluidity of its participants. And in recent years both the healthcare and education systems have been attacked in order to compensate for the government’s consistent mismanagement of tax dollars. And I have yet to see our MPs, and government officials sacrifice a cent of their bloated salaries and pensions. Instead, essential public employees are devalued – stripped of salary, sick days, and deserved benefits, and now the people we trust to bring our children to their full potential, are being denied their basic employment rights.
A misguided opinion of the aspects of an educator’s employment, have spread like a disease through the Canadian public for years. Biased outrage over paid summers, short work-days and inflated pensions – all ill-advised facets of an educators job description. I would agree that there are poor teachers in our system, but I would also argue that many of these poor teachers are just burnt-out and disillusioned due to years of being devalued by that system as well as the public at large.
If I have yet to grab your attention on the plight of educators, lets’ review some figures. The average teacher has a starting salary in Ontario of roughly $42,000 and a top wage of $90,000. In a class of 30 students, at the low end a teacher is being paid a meager $2.33 per child per hour for a 50 hour workweek (which believe it or not is the average a teacher spends teaching, prepping, grading and extracurricular). And this is before tax and union dues.
We as a country expect our educators to instill a desire to learn, a drive to succeed and at times provide the role of a surrogate parent – wholly valuable elements to the success of future contributors to a country’s economy. Without quality founding education, universities are forced to reduce their admission criteria thus limiting eminence in the workforce. In a drowning economy, it is in our best interest to provide the youth of today with a respectable education to assure our country’s economic wellbeing, and that starts with valuing our educators.
Allowing Bill 115 to pass will only set a precedent for future governments to overturn contracts between employees and their employers in both private and public sectors. It will only further undermine an already disillusioned education workforce and will hinder the future education and employment of students like Jill. The magnitude of such imminent repercussions I’m sure will far surpass the lack of extracurricular activities, a temporary absence of tutoring and the adolescent disappointment of a prom.
*To read the article I have referenced, by Margaret Wente of the Globe & Mail, please go here: