Skip To Content

How to find a worthwhile unpaid internship? Jackpine Digital offers some clues

By Apartment613 on March 13, 2014

Stagnating youth employment has led to the rise of internships. Some say organizations are cashing in on those desperate for experience and many people are critical of this trend. But there are several worthwhile opportunities to intern here in Ottawa, even unpaid ones; you just have to know where to look.

Ottawa’s Jackpine, a mission-driven strategy and design studio, is offering one such opportunity. Their internships offer the chance to get involved in a highly creative team of hard working misfits. However, it is unpaid work.

Jackpine’s CEO, Liam Mooney, is aware of many of the critiques of unpaid internships. “Internships can become exploitative when interns are treated as unpaid labour instead of what they are, people who want to learn, earn school credit and gain the experience needed to start a career.”

The difference between a successful internship where participants gain valuable new skills and a more exploitative situation often depends on the philosophy and approach of the organization.

“Many of us have done internships in the past and we understand the frustrations that many people feel [about them]. Our internships build real skills. Our interns are equal on our teams. We don’t bring on interns to do our work for us, we bring them on to share our passion for design and give back to the community that has been so generous to us as we’ve grown.”

The firm’s approach to its internship is influenced by its history. Jackpine’s fairytale rise in its freshman year in business has not gone unnoticed; the CBC even aired a feature on the young start up on March 7th. After being let go from his job and facing nothing but $40,000 in student debt, Liam laid the foundation of his venture from his one-bedroom apartment. He called it Jackpine after a tree that only flourishes after a destructive fire has laid waste to its environment.

Liam has not succeeded alone. Instead he has reached out to like-minded under-employed creative youth, never pausing to review a CV. In the beginning they bartered work for studio space, hamburgers, doughnuts and beer, innovatively weaving together business and community. Now they take on paying clients (everyone needs to get paid after all) with whom they share a community-oriented and environmentally sustainable vision, such as Alterna Savings, First Ottawa Realty, ArtEngine and Purple Urchin.

However, their community involvement doesn’t stop there. They have voiced their political views with a series called “Banned”, a live projection experience denouncing the rise in fees for foreign performers. Not to mention the ever-present Ming Wu, Jackpine’s community photographer, who attends local events and offers in-the-thick-of-it photo-essays almost daily.

Furthermore, Jackpine takes on two pro-bono clients a quarter, focusing on social justice, youth at risk, arts, and climate justice.

Unpaid internships can be a great way to get a foot into the job market, but job seekers should look for businesses that are committed to their career development. Small, community-oriented businesses like Jackpine are a great place to start.

If you are interested in the Jackpine’s internship, they encourage you to apply with creative flair. With the closing date fast approaching, they’re looking for real people with real ideas, not just a polite and standard-issue CV.