Update: The hours required have been reduced from 420 to 250 and can be added up from various part-time opportunities over the next 12 months.
Four months ago, public relations students across Ontario were preparing themselves for coffee chats and interviews in preparation for their third-year summer internship. Two months later, a global pandemic hit Canada and shifted the way people will work and learn, forever.
The anticipation of an internship and the opportunity to use the skills we’ve spent the last three years learning in a real-life industry scenario has suddenly been halted leaving students unable to complete their ministry-mandated, 420-hour internship.
The pandemic caused companies to alter their existing workforce with reduced salaries or furloughs altogether. With companies unable to offer security for their full-time employees, most internship programs have been postponed or revoked entirely.
With more students than there are internships being offered, how does the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities expect thousands of students to complete 420 hours without any compromises? And most crucial of all—why haven’t we heard from them for the last three months?
What’s going on?
The Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board’s Ministerial Consent Application states that all degree programs offered by Ontario colleges must require 420 hours, or 14 weeks, of industry experience to graduate. This equates to roughly 3½ months of 40-hour workweeks.
With a global pandemic comes compromise: reduced salaries, work from home set-ups, virtual classrooms. Students across Ontario have seen no adjustments made for the internship requirements. Don’t get me wrong, I want nothing more than to spend 2+ months in a real PR setting gaining the hands-on experience in an industry I’ve been excited to enter.
With the current climate, school and work have mostly moved online. Students are out of work, being caregivers to their loved ones, and adapting to the new normal like the rest of the planet.
The expectation that students can complete these same hours when nothing is the same anymore is outrageous. This isn’t an argument about tenacity or willpower, this is an argument about managing expectations.
Is anyone trying to help students?
The Ministry of Universities and Colleges is not providing transparency to the very people they are accountable to. Ross Romano has yet to communicate publicly with students who have been impacted by this pandemic. Students have received no direction on what’s next, no reassurance that requirements will be adjusted, or a response to numerous attempts of contact.
To answer the question, “Is anyone trying to help students?” The short answer is… sort of. But that help is certainly not coming from the Ministry. Some programs have provided students with other options as a way to generate hours towards the mandated 420 hours. Options such as attending workshops and seminars, counting hours done in freelance positions, and completing multiple internships have been approved.
The problem with these options is that we aren’t able to learn and apply our skills in the same capacity as we could if we were completing a normal internship. We don’t want a makeshift bandage that will help us graduate, we want what we paid for. Tuition fees remain the same and yet the value of the education we’re receiving has declined.
Students are paying the same price for an education that is anything but ordinary. We’ve all needed to adjust one way or another, so why isn’t the Ministry adapting to the new normal too?
Why is this important?
Students deserve to have a say in how to move forward in the education we have paid for. Life after the pandemic is going to be different, and to be penalized for something out of our control is not how the Ministry should be handling the changes that are inevitable.
We’re expected to complete 420 hours in a world where the opportunities we need are no longer offered. It’s like buying a car, finding out you have to assemble the engine, only to realize you don’t have the right tools. You’ve got some tools, but is it enough to finish the job?
Students are left wondering if their plans for life after school will be delayed due to graduating late. Currently, if we do not finish 420 internship hours in 2020, we will not graduate with our classmates in 2021.
We are being penalized for a global pandemic and risk delaying our walk across the stage with our friends. Entering a workforce you feel underprepared for is not only frightening but can be detrimental to our careers in the long run.
What can be done?
It is up to us students to bring attention to our concerns and I urge anyone who has had an opportunity that was impacted by COVID-19 to reach out to Ross Romano, the Minister of Colleges and Universities, as well as the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board to voice your concerns and any solutions that could be implemented going forward.
Here are some solutions that would help manage expectations:
- Allow students to defer their internship hours to Summer 2021 with no penalty. Let us have a chance at a normal internship and get our degrees in our expected time frame.
- Reduce the 420 hours by 50 percent to constitute part-time work. This will accommodate our existing lack of income, increased caregiver responsibilities and overall anxieties about the future.
- Allow students to choose to either complete the total 420-hour work term or the Ministry-mandated senior thesis. Then students can put their full attention into one important program requirement without sacrificing the quality of work done.
On May 29th, the communications director for the Ministry of Colleges and Universities responded to our concerns in a letter saying: “The ministry is working with institutions to ensure they have the proper plans in place so that students can be accommodated and supported. The ministry is actively working with institutions to support students in the completion of their programs.”
They also mentioned the changes made to the Canada Summer Jobs program that provides a subsidy to employers who hire summer students. Although applications for government jobs have closed, employers who were approved for the subsidy may still have positions available. Similar sentiments were stated in responses from my professors and Dean at Humber College as well.
Students aren’t looking for an easy way out, we’re looking for an understanding, empathetic direction. We deserve transparency from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities—it’s what we paid for.