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Q&A - Internships
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"Our organization is considering setting up internships. Are interns the same as volunteers?"


The difference between an intern and a volunteer lies in the purpose of the role.

  • A volunteer is with an organization primarily to help the organization.
  • An intern is with the organization primarily to benefit themselves.

An internship must substantially benefit the intern, not the organization, which will need to commit staff time and effort to provide an educational experience.

The intent of an internship is to provide an individual with experience in a chosen field or endeavour to further their career or career choice.

A student practicum placement has a similar intent, but differs in that it is a formal arrangement with an educational institution for the organization to provide a student with relevant experience that will meet a course requirement.


Is there a legal definition of an intern?

There is no legal definition of an intern, but criteria from the Ontario Ministry of Labour include two points helpful to the voluntary sector on this topic.

  • An organization providing the training for an intern will derive little, if any, benefit from the activity of the individual while they are being trained.
  • The intern will not displace employees of the training provider.

The second point clearly states that interns should not replace employees. This relates to the ever-present issue in our sector that volunteers should not be used to fill paid positions. Keeping these distinctions in mind will help us comply with Ministry of Labour guidelines and avoid conflict with our staff and unions.  

The Ontario Ministry of Labour does provide criteria for determining when an intern position is, in fact, an employee position that should be paid.

For information about the distinction between an intern and an employee:  


  * All answers are for information purposes only.

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