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Old 04-07-2013, 11:47 PM   #1
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Fallout over HootSuite's practice of hiring unpaid interns

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The Vancouver-based digital media company HootSuite has never been shy about its practice of hiring unpaid interns. But a barrage of criticism – over social-media channels, naturally – has forced the firm to reconsider its reliance on wage-less workers.

An April 5 posting on Reddit, a social news website, suggested that the company is breaking the law.

The post attracted more than 400 comments overnight, some debating whether the company’s interns would be able to file a complaint under the provincial Employment Standards Act, which requires such work to be paid.

By Sunday, the company website’s careers section had removed this reference from a string of job listings: “Note this position is a three month internship at present with a commitment of Monday to Friday with core hours of 9 a.m. -5 p.m. and that the role is unpaid.”

The Reddit thread revealed a deep well of frustration with the practice of unpaid internships – especially within a tech-savvy crowd with a penchant for capturing online images before they can be removed or amended.

Contributors posted the original want ads, a sample of HootSuite’s internship contract, as well as a 2011 article from the company’s community marketing director, Dave Olson, outlining the practice.

“My internships are (almost) always non-paid,” he wrote. In exchange, he urges employers to give them cool job titles and meaningful assignments. “You are receiving free (or cheap) labour and in exchange, you should share your experience, feedback and inside tips and tactics,” he advised.

In an e-mail statement provided on Sunday, HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes said his company is reviewing its hiring policies and suggested some of the interns could yet see a paycheque. “Our legal review indicates that no more than 15 HootSuite’s interns in the past 12 months may be affected by the unpaid internship guidelines and will be reviewed by our team,” the statement read. “If we learn these internships are not compliant, we will fix it.” He did not respond to requests for an interview.

Under B.C.’s Employment Standards Act, which applies to non-union workers, employees must be paid at least the minimum wage (currently $10.25 per hour), and an intern performing duties and responsibilities that would normally be assigned to an employee must be paid the same wages and benefits that an employee would collect.

The provincial law defines an internship as “on-the-job training offered by an employer to provide a person with practical experience.” But if they are doing work, they need to be treated as an employee. The intern positions currently offered at HootSuite include “affiliate marketing,” “strategic accounts analyst” and “social media coach.”

In a six-page sample contract posted online, with the signatory’s name blanked out, it appears the company sought to have its interns waive any rights to compensation, while at the same time demanding ownership of any content they create. HootSuite is named as the “exclusive owner of the deliverables and of all other results of the services and of all intellectual property rights,” it states, while “the intern shall have no claim against the company … for vacation pay, sick leave, retirement benefits, social security, workers’ compensation, health or disability benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, or employee benefits of any kind.” The contract adds: “As full compensation for the services rendered … the company shall pay the intern the sum of $0 with total payment not to exceed this amount.”

In his statement, Mr. Holmes maintained the “overwhelming majority” of his company’s interns and employees enjoy their jobs.

Pat Bell, the minister responsible for the Employment Standards Act, could not be reached for comment on Sunday. An official from his ministry said there have been no complaints to date about HootSuite.
HootSuite to review unpaid intern policy after barrage of criticism - The Globe and Mail

The smoking gun Reddit post (with images of the original job description): Ryl comments on Hootsuite is hiring unpaid Interns, this is illegal in BC.

More news links: Vancouver Sun Global

Now on a personal note: As someone who intends to get his degree in computer science, the shift to unpaid internships and foreign workers worries me. Skilled developers are in demand, but employers who want to circumvent the rules only serve to depress wages. Are my worries unfounded?
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Last edited by Graeme S; 04-08-2013 at 12:41 AM. Reason: Article fixed; repeated the first paragraph three times before.
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Old 04-08-2013, 12:42 AM   #2
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Nope, your worries aren't unfounded at all. Lots of companies are offering "internships" because people are chasing jobs so badly they'll work for free hoping that they'll land a job at the end...when really, there's just as many hungry people who are waiting at the end. The only people they want to hire are the ones who would never work for free because either they already have, or they don't need to.

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Also, I fixed your article quote.
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Old 04-08-2013, 12:56 AM   #3
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Well, there's no use losing sleep over it. I learned a while ago not to stress out over things that you can't control.

Here's what I think. This may be more common in IT fields than in software fields. A developer worth his shit (read: worth his shit) who does co-op and has side programming projects shouldn't have this problem. Or, he can move to Seattle, San Francisco or Austin and make megabucks. .NET/C# programmers can make $60-70k out of college working in Redmond.

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Old 04-08-2013, 01:05 AM   #4
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Based on my experience, I see a lot of the build/dev work being outsourced to countries simply because its cheaper and the fact it means they could get more resource to build the solution to meet aggressive deadlines. Seeing that you are a still a student, I would suggest you expand your skill set to functional roles as well.. That is to build yourself up as a professional who analyses problems, gather requirements, translate those requirements into a technical solution. How you should differentiate yourself is now based on your analytical ability and drive to deliver a fitting solution..

In another words - look more to a ba/sa route - note just a dev role (unless you are really darn good at it)



Just my 2 cents, I'm sure others would have better insights to aid you.
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Old 04-08-2013, 09:06 AM   #5
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Obviously code monkeys can be brought in from China or India. Rote memorization is king in those countries-they can hash out a program given explicit instructions and a deadline, but can they think up the concept for the program or solution in the first place? That's why I think a flexible education focusing on critical thinking, creativity and intellectual curiosity (such as a BSc program from a reputable university, with economics and business electives) will win out in the end. Those kinds of jobs can't be outsourced.

It's also why engineers who are great communicators make insane amounts of money.

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Old 04-08-2013, 12:04 PM   #6
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This is such a common practice in the communications industry its sickening, especially in advertising agencies.

Work for free for 3-6 months and then you don't get hired in the end because there's 10 other people willing to work for free. But hey, at least you get the experience for when you apply for another internship!
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Old 04-08-2013, 03:23 PM   #7
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Never did an internship position but I always assumed that it was paid even though it was at minimum wage. Hopefully HootSuite fixes this as they seem to be a pretty good company.

I've been out of school and doing software development for almost 2 years now. I think the best thing you can do while at school is to learn current mobile and web technologies. It's what's in demand right now and I'm not sure if it's being taught in school. Get accustomed really accustomed with Objective-C, Java, and the HTML5 technology. It'll be great skills to have in the long run when applying for jobs.

Am I afraid to lose my job to offshore coders? No. If it's a pretty straightforward application that'll never need updates ever again then offshore coders can do that no problem. Take a couple of them and they'll hack something up for you in no time.
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Old 04-08-2013, 03:51 PM   #8
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javascript
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[23-07, 02:03] shawn79 i find that at vietnamese place they cut ur hair like they cut grass
[23-07, 02:03] shawn79 do u go to vietnamese places for haircuts
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Old 04-08-2013, 04:10 PM   #9
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^Pretty big trend right now too.

Right once in JavaScript deploy everywhere lol. Has it's pros and cons but I prefer native
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Old 04-08-2013, 04:37 PM   #10
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curious, why do you prefer native?
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[23-07, 02:03] shawn79 i find that at vietnamese place they cut ur hair like they cut grass
[23-07, 02:03] shawn79 do u go to vietnamese places for haircuts
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Old 04-08-2013, 07:39 PM   #11
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don't worry op its not so much engineering jobs that are being unpaid, it's things like social media and blogging i believe. Developers are still very much valued in this town
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Old 04-08-2013, 07:44 PM   #12
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I thought intern-ships were supposed to be paid. A prof told me that and it's usually international companies which avoid paying interns and HooteSuite seems like a north american company.
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Old 04-08-2013, 08:45 PM   #13
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This is such a common practice in the communications industry its sickening, especially in advertising agencies.

Work for free for 3-6 months and then you don't get hired in the end because there's 10 other people willing to work for free. But hey, at least you get the experience for when you apply for another internship!
yeah i guess this was my reaction too. I heard of this type of shit in pr firms, advertising agencies etc. and just assumed it's normal. Hootsuite's interns mostly do the same stuff, so it's again the pr and communications getting the shaft. People need to group together and stop giving in to this type of bullshit, or the paradigm will never shift < -- LOL I SAID PARADIGM SHIFT
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Old 04-08-2013, 08:53 PM   #14
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I'm in the IT recruitment industry and what's in demand right now in Vancouver is Linux admin guys, network security, middleware guys
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Old 04-08-2013, 08:55 PM   #15
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The best interns would never apply to this type of company.
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Old 04-08-2013, 08:58 PM   #16
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Old 04-08-2013, 09:46 PM   #17
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curious, why do you prefer native?
Personally, I prefer native because mostly because of the performance. You're also relying on the javascript processing of the device. There are a few solutions that are javascript compiled into native. A few of them are just in a web container.

But to be honest, if you're just making a pretty simple app that are just a couple screens with a few buttons. A HTML5/javascript solution would probably be best.

(I'm currently doing a lot more HTML5 dev at work)
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Old 04-08-2013, 10:13 PM   #18
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Yeah, it seems pretty simple to me: they lay out the terms of internship in advance, you agree to them, you walk into the situation with both eyes open, you have nothing to complain about. They could want you to work 120 hours/week - if you agree to it, you should have nothing to complain about. Don't like the terms, don't take the position. Pretty easy, no?

It's one thing if it's a paying job that you're pretty much "forced" to take to make ends meet, feed your family, etc. - something where saying yes is your only viable option of survival. But a position that's inherently unpaid? Just say fucking NO.

Why do companies do it? Because they know suckers... er, people will take the positions, and they can get stuff done that they would normally have to pay employees for. If people start refusing to work for free, that would end. Sure it may be a skeezy way to do business, but the solution is simple: DON'T PLAY ALONG.

I can't believe people make this so bleeding complicated. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN FUCKING CHOICES.
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Old 04-09-2013, 09:14 AM   #19
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^the interns who signed the contract and are working are not the ones complaining. Is people who don't want to work for free that are. People who take free jobs encourage this status quo and fuck it up for others who have now a more limited job pool

Hootsuite make shit load of money and claim to be social pionerrs. In reality they buy out influencers and use free labor to put out lots of content. Their entire culture is fake as hell.
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Old 04-09-2013, 09:32 AM   #20
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Then instead of crying to the media and government like whiny bitches, the complainers should be convincing the interns not to take those positions. Or be prepared to do those same jobs for the same remuneration (or lack thereof). Or go work at McDonalds.
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Old 04-09-2013, 10:08 AM   #21
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Its a tough job market. Interns usually have no work experience and you gotta start somewhere since everywhere requires 1-2 years of experience.

And even if those positions are paid, you would have the boss pulling you outside, asking if you could come in 6, if you could clean up his/her poop until 10,12. Of course HR wouldnt know about this and you dont get paid a dime even though you're only slightly above minimum wage. You have 3 months left in the contract. What you're going to say no and risk not having a badass recommendation letter? Most people would bite the bullet and ride it out. That is why these companies can milk this source of free labor. It's the North American sweatshop experience.
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Old 04-09-2013, 10:46 AM   #22
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It's hard to lay blame at the companies because after all, it takes two to tango and there are many people who are willing to work for free.

In the end, companies are taking advantage of the fact that people in their 20s are staying at home much longer than they used to and don't actually have to support themselves. What can you do?
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Old 04-09-2013, 11:03 AM   #23
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Its a tough job market. Interns usually have no work experience and you gotta start somewhere since everywhere requires 1-2 years of experience.
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THIS.

I'm not sure about other industries but in communications/advertising, entry level jobs require 1-2 years experience for some dumb reason. Your only choice is to intern and even getting the internship is competitive as hell. There are people who intern just to get the more prestigious internship that MIGHT get them the job.
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Old 04-09-2013, 11:11 AM   #24
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Another reason for the explosion of internships is that the majority of kids coming out of school these days want desk jobs (guilty as charged). Supply and demand.
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Old 04-09-2013, 05:54 PM   #25
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THIS.

I'm not sure about other industries but in communications/advertising, entry level jobs require 1-2 years experience for some dumb reason. Your only choice is to intern and even getting the internship is competitive as hell. There are people who intern just to get the more prestigious internship that MIGHT get them the job.
Its not a dumb reaaon but rather a tough reality. That reality being that most marketing programs teach only theory and old school marketing instead of stuff people actually practice nowdays
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