Hiring your first intern: what Canadian business owners need to know

Congratulations, your business is growing! Of course, almost every growing business goes through an awkward phase – when you obviously need more help and resources, but the money is not yet rolling in to the point you can hire senior level staff. If you’re in this stage and the word intern has floated through your brain a few times, you are not alone.

But where do you start? How do you hire an intern? Can anyone hire and intern? Do I have to pay a salary? If so, how much? What duties can they take over? This blog post will cover those questions and more, so do read on!

Start Ups Hiring InternsHow do I hire an intern?

Before you place an ad on Craigslist or Workopolis, it’s worth exploring whether or not your business qualifies for funding an internship.

Some funding options to consider:

Advanced Manufacturing Fund: $200 million in federal funding to support the manufacturing sector in Southern Ontario, including a non-repayable grant for non-profits providing internships.

Connect Canada Internship: A total of $10,000 to support the hiring of a research intern to conduct an R & D project

Skills Link Program: Provides funding for employers/organizations to help youth overcome barriers to employment

Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit: A non-refundable tax credit worth 10% of eligible salaries and wages paid to eligible apprentices.

Canada Summer Jobs: Up to 100% funding of minimum wage for eligible non-profit organizations.

Yves Landry Foundation: Up to $50,000 of funding to support training or up-skilling of workers.

Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) TalentEdge Programs: Industry-Academic partnership provides 50-50 funding for both academic and industry internships.

Do I have to pay them?

The short answer is straightforward: unless your intern is receiving school credit or the internship is part of a recognized educational program, you may be violating the law if you do not pay your interns (see To pay or not to pay: laws surrounding internships in Canada”).

 If I don’t have to, should I pay an intern?

While every business is different, there is compelling evidence showing the value of paid internships, for both the employer and employee. It really boils down to cultivating the workforce of tomorrow in a labour market that will be short of qualified workers in the coming years. Your business will be well-placed to succeed with a loyal, engaged and committed workforce, and paid internships go a long way towards achieving this outcome.

How can I best use an intern?

A good rule is to ensure the internship provides ample opportunity for the young worker to develop skills in their chosen field of study or practice. It is inappropriate to have interns do menial work, such as fetching coffee or spending all day at the photocopier. Besides, you probably won’t be doing your business any favours by exploiting young workers, and the intern will share his or her experiences with others, which can put your company’s name in a poor light.

To pay or not to pay: laws surrounding internships in Canada

Given the amount of media attention dedicated to paid vs. unpaid internships, it’s worth breaking down the current lay of the land on this subject.

According to the Canadian Intern Association, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for better conditions for interns, an unpaid internship outside of a proper educational context is generally considered illegal in Canada, although there is some uncertainty about how this works in practice.

There have been high-profile examples of exploitation of unpaid interns, or companies using intern programs to get around labour laws related to paying employees a wage. There have also been cases of unpaid internships that are formally part of an educational program, but do not adhere to the criteria for an educational internship.

The responsibility for regulating internships falls to each province’s labour ministry. There is a lot of variability between provinces in terms of what is considered an acceptable educational internship, and whether an intern must be paid.

Further muddying the waters is the fact that some internships fall under federal jurisdiction and operate under separate legislation from the provinces (and the relevant legislation, the Canada Labour Code, makes no mention of the word “intern”).

Ontario has published a guidance statement on unpaid internships that offers some clarity, while at the federal level, there is a private member’s bill that would amend the Canada Labour Code and offer various protections for unpaid interns.

In the end, consider what your parents taught you about the value of work: hard work may very well be its own reward, yet it’s just as important to remember that a job well done deserves a reward.

Stay tuned for more internship tips and information on the My StartUp blog.

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