Unpaid internships have become a hot topic recently. In the United States, unpaid interns are suing big companies that have offered subpar opportunities with little educational or experiential value. In Canada, students and politicians are pushing for clearer legal standards for unpaid internships to avoid similarly exploitative experiences.
So where does the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) fit into this debate? SCiP, a program offered by Volunteer Alberta in partnership with the Government of Alberta, connects nonprofit/voluntary organizations with post-secondary students across the province. While interns participating in SCiP do receive a $1000 bursary from the Government of Alberta after completing their SCiP internship, the positions themselves are unpaid.
The bursary is the first thing that sets SCiP apart from other internship programs. Critics of unpaid internships have argued that they offer an unfair advantage to students who can afford to take time away from work or school and are inaccessible to students who need to maintain an income. By offering interns $1000 for completing an internship, SCiP provides enabling dollars that allow students to take time for this learning opportunity. As well, all SCiP internships are part-time and designed to be flexible around school and work commitments.
SCiP internships are also vetted by our staff to ensure we only offer meaningful, skill-based opportunities. Past internships have included designing websites, building a bicycle fleet, facilitating workshops, creating new logos, and coordinating volunteers. We do not approve internships comprised solely of licking envelopes, photocopying, or filing. Not only do interns benefit from these guidelines, but nonprofits also enjoy the outcomes of these high level projects and the real impact they have on their missions in the province. The mutual benefit of SCiP extends past the immediate internships. Interns gain valuable experience that they can add to their resumes and draw on as they move forward with their studies and with their careers. Nonprofit/voluntary organizations gain human capacity as well as an opportunity to demonstrate to the future of nonprofit leadership how rewarding working and volunteering in the sector is.
Aside from the focus on accessibility and shared value, perhaps the biggest difference between SCiP internships and the unpaid internships currently garnering media attention is that SCiP internships are only offered to Alberta nonprofits helping Albertans. There are no shareholders making money off of SCiP interns’ work; instead, the interns are building and supporting their own communities. Furthermore, many of the nonprofits offering SCiP internships are directly involved in addressing issues like poverty, unemployment, exploitation and adult education – the very issues that those concerned with unpaid internships are also looking to tackle.
SCiP has just completed a very successful second year with over 700 internships filled in over 35 communities across the province since September 2012. The third year of SCiP begins on August 1st, 2013. For more information, or to sign up for the program, please visit www.joinscip.ca.
Sam Kriviak, Program Coordinator