Internships can be a valuable component of practical education and help fortify the foundation of a professional career in the design communications industry. 

DesCan sees internships as a useful part of a designer’s education and path to professional practice.

For students, internships offer real-world exposure to the business of design and the pace of professional practice as well as hands-on experience applying strategic thinking and using the tools and techniques of their trade.

For studios and agencies, interns can bring vitality to the workplace and fresh perspectives in creative problem solving. Internships offer studios and agencies opportunities to give back to the industry and the community. Interns themselves can also prove to be a high- quality source of potential talent to draw upon once they complete their formal education.

In Canada, regulations regarding internships are enacted and enforced at the provincial and territorial level. The specific laws governing internships differ greatly from region to region. For example, what is illegal in one province may be common, and acceptable practice in another.

DesCan, in consultation with the Canadian Intern Association, has developed the following as a reference for its members and the public—whether you are an intern or an internship provider.


What is an Internship

Generally speaking, internships, have the following qualities and differentiate  from practicums, co-op placements, or mentorships.

• Operate for a clearly defined period of time

• Have a formalized set of learning objectives

• Contain milestone and key target dates for the achievement of those learning objectives

• Include instructor involvement and evaluation of student performance

• Run concurrently with an educational program for credit, while the student is enrolled in a program (e.g. a summer internship), or immediately upon completion of an educational program

• Are designed for the benefit of the intern

What you should know

It is not legally possible to opt out of minimum wage in Canada. So, do not propose nor agree to such a request. Additionally, providing an honorarium does not negate the requirement to pay minimum wage. 

Interns should keep a record of hours worked. This will be a useful reference should the intern feel a need to file a claim for minimum wage with the relevant Ministry of Labour once your internship is over.

Unpaid Internships

All members of DesCan, (including students, freelancers, studio, or agency owners, etc.), agree to abide by the DesCan Code of Ethics upon becoming a member. The Code of Ethics protects intellectual rights as well as the rights of the individual to fair and equitable practice of their profession. Our Code of Ethics prohibits members from engaging in unpaid work, with a few exceptions (e.g. pro bono).

Unpaid internships that are not for school credit are generally illegal. However, not all unpaid internships are illegal. Each province has its own specific employment laws which should be reviewed independently.

Interns are encouraged to avoid or decline scenarios where unpaid work is masked under an “internship” label. A true internship will provide exposure to current skills and practices and valuable real world experience. Genuine internships are not intended to be a solution to avoid human resource expenses for the studio or agency.

Studio owners should be diligent in ensuring that their internship programs comply with local employment legislation. There are established tests that can help determine if what is being offered is a genuine internship or is considered employment. If the latter is found to be true, compensation may be required.

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