RGDs comment on updated internship guidelines
Updates to RGD's Guidelines for Internships address compliance with the Ontario Ministry of Labour guidelines, which require interns to be compensated with minimum wage (unless the placement is offered under a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology or a university). The document also touches on key components of the internship experience in addition to responsibilities of the firm and the intern.


As a regular practice in the creative industry, internships provide emerging designers with practical job skills and hands-on work experience to help launch their careers. RGDs were asked to share their intern-hiring practices and what strategies they employ to ensure a mutually-beneficial experience.


Complying with Internship Guidelines


When offering internship positions, it is up to the employer and the intern to understand the terms of the relationship and ensure that the position is structured to comply with the guidelines of the Ontario Ministry of Labour.


"It is important for firms to follow best practices when offering internships," says Frank Chartrand RGD, Creative Director at Bureau. "Having guidelines in place will hopefully ensure a quality internship experience no matter where a student decides to go."


Diego Casco RGD, Creative Director at CASCO Agency, sees room for improvement in the design industry's understanding of the Ministry's guidelines. "I believe our industry needs to become better informed about what the regulations are and how they affect us," he says. "Our firms are in a position to provide students and recent graduates with real-life work experience, helping them complete their programs and better integrate to the workforce."


Regarding compensation, the Ontario Ministry dictates that interns are entitled to the same rights as regular employees, including minimum wage.


"Even thought regulation states that under certain very limited circumstances no pay is acceptable, compensation, whether it is an honorarium or hourly pay, must be provided," says Diego.


"We never take unpaid interns. Depending on length of commitment, we offer either hourly compensation or an honorarium for shorter (i.e. 1 month or less) positions," says Peter Scott RGD, Principal at q30 design inc. "I think that the minimum wage standard is a good safeguard against exploitation of students in the current employment environment. It will take time, education and commitment by RGD to get the word out that fair compensation is not an option, but a condition of employment. Both students and employers need to understand the standards to improve the situation for interns."


Why hire an intern?


For many employers, internships are about continuing the learning process on both sides of the relationship. "We want to provide talented students with much-needed work experience that they can add to their portfolios, and make them as employable as possible after graduation," says Frank. "On the other hand, we want to learn as much from them as they do from us. A fresh, youthful perspective on design projects is our favourite part - it prevents us from getting set in our ways."


Marko Zonta RGD, Principal/Creative Director for Zync Communications Inc., also emphasizes the importance of giving back to the creative community by helping designers who are just starting out. "We all had mentors who helped us at the start of our careers, so it's important for us to provide the same opportunities to young professionals when we can," he says.


"Most of the time, young designers have no idea what work will really be like," says Brent Long RGD, Principal of Fusion Design Group. "Internships are our way of helping open their eyes to the elements of a junior design position. I like to think that when they leave they are better prepared to look for work and offer a good ROI for potential employers because they can hit the ground running."


How do you identify potential candidates?


According to respondents, choosing an intern who is a good fit and who will get the most out of the experience requires clearly communicated expectations and a strong understanding of what the firm has to offer.


"It's not very often that we hire design interns, but when we do we ask a few very important questions: Do we have a suitable project where an intern can get involved? Can we invest the time necessary to make the commitment worthwhile?" explains Bob Hambly RGD, Creative Director for Hambly & Woolley. "We interview candidates as we would for any potential full-time position and provide the selected applicant with an excellent work environment, thoughtful mentoring and fair compensation."


At Fusion, Brent also employs the same hiring process for interns and regular employees. "We put them through the same interview process and only bring them on if we believe that we would be comfortable hiring them in a real-world position. We look at personality, work samples, past experience, references, and how they present themselves - this ensures they will be a good fit for us and also that the experience of our firm will be good practice for them," says Brent.


Marko recommends reaching out to schools and using social media platforms to connect with potential candidates. "We will be looking at their education and skill levels, but most importantly their desire to learn something new."


What strategies can help ensure a mutually-beneficial experience?


Employers agree that promoting active involvement in the firm's activities is a key component to a successful internship experience.


"We strongly encourage the active participation of any intern," says Peter. "We like them to work with a wide variety of internal designers to get a broad exposure to skill sets, aesthetic differentiation and working styles and ask them their point of view on the studio experience. The more questions they ask, and the more they contribute, the better the experience will be."


"Involve the designer in all team meetings - at the end of the internship you want them to feel like they were a part of the process," says Despina Zanganas RGD of 108 ideaspace. "On the other side, interns should recognize that they are in control of what they get out of the experience. They should have a positive attitude and a thirst for knowledge."


For Brent, a strong internship experience is based on real feedback and development. "An intern's work is critiqued along with everyone else - they get true feedback, raw and real, with no holding back," he says. "They are encouraged to ask questions, attend vendor visits and team events to be as involved as possible in the process."


The first step is finding out if an intern is the right fit. "Prior to proceeding with interviews, we ask students to answer a series of questions in writing, to help us determine what skills they  are looking to improve." explains Diego. "This helps us ensure that their training needs are met."


Before diving in, Frank also recommends having a clear idea of what both sides want to get out of the relationship. "For interns, we recommend outlining a few things you hope to gain and communicating these goals with the firm you're working with. This shows you have the ability to take initiative," he says. "A valuable experience is a combined effort between the firm and the individual. Interns shouldn't be shy about communicating what they want to learn."


Jean-Pierre Lacroix RGD, President of Shikatani Lacroix, emphasizes that this information should be shared right from the beginning to ensure a worthwhile experience. "For the relationship to work, firm owners need to know that the candidate is keen on becoming involved in the discipline where the firm has established its reputation. An intern whose passion is web development will be poorly suited to a firm specializing in branding or package design," he says. "Ultimately, aligning the candidate's passion with the firm's focus will lead to great work and a positive environment."


Click here to view RGD's updated Guidelines for Internships