Architects, interns and students should not work for FREE!

Architecture firms have often relied on unpaid positions to finish up their work, even if some firms don’t exactly advertise the tradition. But after recent lawsuits brought by former interns in other industries, the custom is starting to come under fire in the architecture industry.

One of the major challenges facing new Canadians in their quest to find employment in this great country is the lack of Canadian work experience. Immigrants are frustrated by employers’ insistence that prospective job applicants, must have Canadian work experience. The employees thinking that taking unpaid positions would be the way to solve the dilemma of “Canadian Experience”, and the employers using that to their own advantage.

A few weeks after being commissioned to design the 2019 Serpentine Pavilion, Junya Ishigami + Associates and the Serpentine Galleries are now under fire after it emerged that the big-name firm uses unpaid interns in Japan, the Architects’ Journal reported. An email sent by Junya Ishigami + Associates in response to a student seeking an internship opportunity lists a set of “conditions”, which include unpaid interns having to provide their own software and computer equipment, and working Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight for a period of at least 8-12 weeks.

Serpentine Pavilion 2019

According to the AJ’s State of Architectural Education survey, almost half of architecture students looking for work experience in their year out would be willing to work for free. And in Canada, most of the newcomers, even internationally trained architects with more than 10 years of experience, would also be willing to work for free just to get their foot into the industry.

Most recently, Kathleen Kurtin, President of the Ontario Association of Architects(OAA) issued a letter in support of equitable pay for architects, interns, and students:

“Not paying employees minimum wage and public holiday pay is archaic. Not providing rest periods, compensation for overtime work, time off between shifts or weekly rest periods fosters resentment between different generations of architects. Together, these practices are prohibitive to creating the modern and equitable profession we all want architecture to be. While I recognize that internships provide an enriching learning opportunity, interns and students are contributing to the value of the projects on which they are working and should, therefore, be compensated.

Architecture is an evolving profession where we are all learning every day —interns and students should not be penalized for being the newest members of the profession.”

The OAA has also been in contact with the schools of architecture across the province and has asked for this information to be shared with their students. Architectural students and internationally trained architects should never be offering their services gratis, nor should architectural firms be expecting this of them. In offering their services for lesser amounts, students and newcomer architects are not only reducing their own self-worth, but also that of the profession.

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