Internships and the Great Recession

If you've been reading the papers or watching TV over the last two weeks, you will have seen that BC took a big hit last month.  The latest statistics show BC facing huge job loses, the worst since 2004. They're bad, and there's no disguising it.  But it's mainly the goods producing sector and service sector taking the hit - that is to say forestry, mining, finance, real estate etc...

So not to minimize the bad news for them, there is little bad news for you as an intern, or a school with interns to place.

Our company assists schools in managing their internship and work experience programs.  We do 3 kinds of placements for them and their students:

  • Hospitality (food services, accommodation)
  • Unpaid Professional Internships
  • Paid Professional Internships

Schools worry, more than anything else, about the Hospitality program.  They've been told by our competitors that the industry has collapsed and that placements are impossible.

This is from the latest release by BC Stats (the provincial government statistics agency):

While the magnitude of the job losses during the previous month was not repeated, employment in the service sector continued to slip in March (–0.1%). The largest drops in service sector employment were experienced in the finance, real estate & insurance (–5.7%) and information, culture & recreation (–4.5%) industries.  Employment in the retail and wholesale trade industries slipped for a third straight month (–0.8%) while the transportation (+3.1%) and accommodation & food service (+4.5%) industries saw a boost.

That last line in bold - that's your hospitality program.  In 2008, Metro Vancouver had about 90,000 people employed in accommodation and food services.  Last month, in our worst month of recession so far, the number actually continued to grow, rising 4.5%.

Summer is coming, the cruise ship season will be here soon, the Olympics are coming, and in fact even without those, we're still seeing growth.  I've been at 2 hospitality job fairs in the last 2 weeks, and I have 2 more in the next 2 weeks.  The panic in the press asside - it is business as usual.

Now getting to unpaid professional internships - it's a boom time.  We have placements available in even the hardest hit industries - want to do an unpaid practicum in finance?  Real Estate?  Recruitment?  How many interviews would you like?

Students at this point are more often than not, getting a choice of which company they will work with.  Granted it still takes skills and connections.  You can imagine how full the email inboxes of these companies are with job seekers - so if you're not working with them now, it's not going to happen.

Paid internships.  These have never been easy.  During the boom they were hard labour, and during the bust they're hard labour.  But, largely because of the cost involved in 6 months of studies and the risk inherint in leaving a scarce job to come to Canada in the first place, demand has self-corrected to meet supply.

One thing helping us to meet our obligations for paid professional placements is the early opening of the Richmond Skytrain line.  This will now open on or before Labour Day in September.  In other words, any student beginning their studies in a paid professional internship program, will be doing their internship after the Richmond Line has opened and during the run up to the Olympics.

Having Richmond available for placements will effectively double our supply of paid professional IT jobs and office admin.

So overall, in spite of the numbers you see on TV, when you dig down into the actual stats, we're in good shape.  This is the worst of times right now, maybe another 1 or 2 terrible months, and we'll start to level out through the summer, and see major growth through fall and into the winter.