During my recent conversation with Cammie Jaquays, director of Trent University’s internship program for business administration students, she made a point of noting a large number of Peterborough employers are committed to giving students workplace experience.

“We’re lucky…they do invest, they do put in the time,” she assessed, adding, “There’s a lot of learning that goes on.”

There is indeed. I know that firsthand from my 27-year tenure as an editor with Peterborough This Week/mykawartha.com where my boss, editor-in-chief Lois Tuffin was, and remains, clearly cognizant of the value of bringing on co-op students, or interns.

Students were, and are, integrated as part of the newsroom team almost immediately, attending story planning meetings, shadowing reporters on assignment and, eventually, writing stories which appeared under their name. On the newspaper’s part, there was, and is, a considerable investment of time and effort in their development in return for an extra body in an increasingly staff-deficient setting.  

In a perfect world, we have an abundance of firms and companies that set aside budgeted dollars for interns. The reality is that’s not the case. Locally, we’re quite fortunate to have a number employers who want to help young people get a step up on their chosen career paths but paying for their labours isn’t an option. Instead, they offer the benefit of their guidance and experience.

“I’ve always made it a point not to treat interns like go-fors…if they’re here to work, they work,” notes Peterborough Examiner managing editor Kennedy Gordon.

Mr. Gordon notes paying interns “isn’t an option” as his newspaper, like “most smaller newspapers,” simply doesn’t have the extra dollars to do so. So his newsroom offers interns and co-op students the one thing it has an abundance of: the opportunity to work alongside, and learn from, seasoned professionals.

He adds recent changes to Ontario legislation prevents accepting unpaid internships unless it’s part of an academic program.

“I find myself saying no to a lot of young people who are willing to work for free. One showed up at my office just recently, a recent Trent grad looking for practical experience.

“The recent for the change in law was sound. Many employers, particularly those in the media, didn’t treat their interns well and abused the concept. Unfortunately, the rest of us pay the price.”

Dave Morello, co-owner of Morello’s Independent Grocer, is another local employer who has invested in co-op students, incurring the cost of staff time to train them.

He admits to a benefit for his store in that it may produce a strong long-term paid employee. As for the intern, he notes there’s the benefit of gaining the experience of an interview and working with a team towards a common goal.

“It allows contact to be made with potential candidates who otherwise may never meet the employer,” says Mr. Morello.

“It allows a candidate to get an ‘interview’ where he or she may not have been considered based on skills, experience and so on. It allows for third party screening of candidates, promoting a more suitable job fit and satisfaction. It allows for the use of a third party to help communicate, and provide more thorough and detailed performance feedback. And it allows a candidate to gain valuable experience with interviews, job setting and so on.”

The common denominator here is clear: if you’re open to learning new skills in a real world setting, opportunities abound. Kudos to those educational institutions, such as Trent University and Fleming College, which have incorporated a placement component as a key ingredient of their academic programs. They are truly serving their students well. But equal admiration for those employers who make the commitment to invest in the future. Just as it takes two to tango, it takes two to learn and grow.