Post-secondary students are not oblivious to the fact that it’s increasingly difficult for youth to break into the job market. Many of them turn to summer jobs, co-ops or internships during the summer months to obtain practical experience in the work field.

Yet a prominent concern amongst students is the possible financial burden that are usually associated with these positions.

In a recent article published by CBC, it reported that Western had a total of 3,049 unpaid internships and 632 paid positions.

However, Stephanie Hayne Beatty, associate director of experiential experience at the Student Success Centre, said that these numbers were misrepresented.

“It’s important to note that at Western, we define work-integrated learning as internship, co-op and practicum,” said Beatty. “The vast majority of the 3,000 unpaid opportunities that were reported are actually practicums and clinical placements … professional programs have a long history of embedding hands-on experience.”

According to Beatty, 97 per cent of the reported 3,049 unpaid opportunities come from the practical requirements in professional programs, such as nursing, occupational and physical therapy, and education.

Beatty further added that the Student Success Centre places priority on paid opportunities for students. At Western, out of the available positions that are defined as an internship or a co-op, 90 per cent of them are paid.

The internship programs that are offered at Western are longer in length and are paid. Students from the engineering, science and social sciences faculties can take about eight to 12 months off of school to gain industry-related experience. Since 2011, the number of students involved in the program has doubled.

The only unpaid internship programs at Western are found in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS). Beatty clarified that the students do receive academic credit since the practical placement is required for their degree.

“It might be a semantics issue,” said Beatty. “I think there’s some debate on our campus, and also across the country, about what exactly defines an internship.”

Heather Wakely, practicum coordinator at Western Continuing Studies, also explained that practicums are similar to internships in that they both provide learning opportunities in workplace settings. The main difference is that a practicum is a requirement of a post-degree diploma program, much shorter in length and the student is graded on their performance.  

“Practicum is the bridge between the coursework and the start of students’ careers,” said Wakely. “It’s the opportunity for students to apply what they’ve learned, develop skills, learn from a mentor, gain experience, and add to their resumés. Every aspect of the programs is designed with students’ careers in mind and our students have a lot of success.”

Western Continuing Studies report that 86 per cent of the 2015 graduates have found employment in their desired professions within six months of graduation. Two of the programs that are offered also saw a 100 per cent employment rate in that year.

Although many of these practicum experiences are traditionally unpaid for students, Wakely said that many of the programs may qualify for OSAP. She further suggests students to apply for scholarships and bursaries.  

John Doerksen, vice-provost of academic programs, expressed that these work-integrated learning placements can help students to gain valuable workplace skills and build career networks.

“In addition to gaining the practical experience, students have reported deeper learning when they return to the classroom,” he said.

Doerksen also believes the federal government’s proposed initiatives on internships and other practical experiences would help students to find jobs after graduation.

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Grace is a news editor for volume 110 at the Gazette. She is a third-year neuroscience student minoring in French studies. If you want to reach Grace, email her at grace@westerngazette.ca

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