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latest issue

Latest Issue

Should you give interns a turn?

The benefits of interns

Evaluating the benefits and the challenges of internship programs

by Connie Jeske Crane

Do you have an internship program you want to evaluate—or maybe you’re curious about internships? In Canada’s event space, internship programs can potentially deliver a range of wonderful benefits. But before we talk about those, let’s address the elephant in the room—the legalities and controversy.

In the past decade, internships, rightfully, have received harsh scrutiny. In 2011, US journalist Ross Perlin’s book, Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy, documented problems and triggered a wave of corporate and government policy changes—plus new advocacy groups like the Canadian Intern Association (founded in 2012).

So it’s understandable that event companies might have misgivings. Case in point, while her company has an established program today (generally involving paid three-month internships), Sommer Smith, director of operations with Boom Goes The Drum, a planning agency operating in Calgary and Vancouver, admits she balked when a student first approached her for an internship. “We’re a small business and I wanted to make sure we were providing a really mutual relationship with the intern. So I was a bit apprehensive.” Happily, Smith says she ventured in and that student has been a full-time employee for six years: “She was the reason we started a proper internship program.”

While it takes work, planners like Smith say benefits—for both parties—can make internships worthwhile. For more insight, we talked to Smith and Grail Noble, founder and CEO of Toronto’s Yellow House Events:

Internships can give students valuable hands-on training and fulfill requirements of their academic programs. Internships also, says Smith, give students a good chance
to test the water. “A lot of people love the idea of events, but sometimes when they get into it, it’s not the right fit. That’s an important thing to learn too.”

Additionally, as touched on, sometimes interns can snag full-time employment. Noble says Yellow House has a robust internship program and estimates she’s hired on at least half of her interns.

Much more than a job interview, internships let employers see a person’s skills play out, says Noble. “It’s such a great way to know if someone is going to be a great fit or not.”

For everyday operations, interns can lend valuable assistance with things like research and event staffing, adds Noble. And if you have employees moving into management positions, get them involved hiring and overseeing interns, she says. “It gives them such great training.”

Smith also loves the fresh ideas, technical skills and insights interns bring. In one case, she says, an intern asked permission to use Boom Goes the Drum as the focus of a school project. “We ended up getting some really great value-adds, including a brand audit.”

Finally, whether interns stay or go, quality connections can result. “I’ve had interns,” says Noble, “who’ve gone on to work at big jobs, reach back out to me a few years later to say ‘Thank you so much, I’ve realized now what a great opportunity I had and how much I learned.’ It feels really good to be able to help young people learn.”


Formats vary, but good internships have clear goals, some remuneration and, generally, academic partners. Noble says Yellow House works with post-grad programs. “Our interns come from a program where they’re in school, and they’re getting a credit for their activity with us. We also give them an honorarium.”

For event companies, engaging interns across various academic programs—communications and PR, hospitality, entertainment, sports marketing, performing arts—adds energy, says Smith.

Don’t waste interns’ time on coffee runs and filing. At Yellow House, Noble says interns are engaged team members, participating in meetings, events and even company retreats.

“This is probably one of the first times they’re going to get professional feedback in their career,” says Smith.

Every Canadian province has its own employment standards, legislation and regulations applying 
to interns.
    •    In many provinces, unpaid internships are illegal— unless they’re part of a formal education program. 

    •    Canada’s federal government plans to introduce new federal standards guaranteeing interns (unless they’re in a formal education program) minimum wage. 


Canadian Intern Association

Canadian Intern Rights Guide

Ross Perlin’s website 

Source: The Canadian Intern Association

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