Young workers go green in internship program

Wherever Britt Aberle ends up working in the future, chances are it won’t be for a company that values dollars over environmental sense or human need.

Judy Murphy stands outside the urban ecology centre in Montreal where she works as a translator.

Judy Murphy stands outside the urban ecology centre in Montreal where she works as a translator.

Wherever Britt Aberle ends up working in the future, chances are it won’t be for a company that values dollars over environmental sense or human need.

“I think the work that I do in life should contribute to the world in some way,” says the 24-year-old Calgarian, who holds a bachelor’s degree in social work.

“I don’t really see myself working anywhere corporate or that doesn’t have an environmental, social justice or community focus.”

Since December, Aberle has been interning at a bike shop in downtown Calgary as part of a national program that places post-secondary grads in jobs that are environmentally or community minded.

The Good Life Community Bike Shop is a non-profit, community-owned space that sells bikes and recycles parts. Cyclists can also stop by and learn how to fix their own bikes.

“(The internship) just seemed like a really good opportunity for young folks who want to enter the field of environmental activism, social work and community building who don’t have a lot of experience,” says Aberle, who teaches bike mechanics and writes grant proposals for the shop.

The Youth Eco Internships started in September 2009 as an opportunity for young people aged 15 to 30 to work within the non-profit and community services sector. Last September, a second program was launched for post-secondary graduates up to 30 years old and expanded to include the private sector. Both programs, which wrap up in March, are administered by the YMCA and funded through the federal government. The YWCA has also acted as a partner.

Organizers say they wanted to open up opportunities for young people who have an interest in the environment. “There hasn’t been a lot in that kind of sector,” says Angela de Burger, a co-ordinator with the YMCA in Toronto. More than 1,000 interns have taken part in the programs, which de Burger says cost about $20.5 million to deliver.

She says it’s not yet known whether a third internship program will be launched in the future. When the internship applications began rolling in, de Burger says she heard from a number of young people who’d been staking out non-profit organizations for years, hoping to catch a job opening.

“But of course, in the non-profit sector, they don’t have a heap of paid positions,” she says, adding that some young people who found job postings didn’t qualify because they lacked the required education or experience.

The internships have given a number of youth a foot in the door.

At the Montreal Urban Ecology Centre, intern Judy Murphy has just wrapped up an intensive project: translating a 5,000-word report from French into English.

Established in 1996, the non-profit, independent centre is focused on creating sustainable urban development through a variety of projects, including promoting active transport.

Murphy was searching for job opportunities after receiving a certificate in translation from McGill University when an acquaintance mentioned the internship program.

The 24-year-old, who calls her experience at the centre a “one in a million opportunity,” jumped at the chance to work in her field while learning about something that affects her everyday life.

“(It) happens to be a topic that I’m really interested in, but I didn’t really know how much it meant to me,” says Murphy, who’s originally from Victoria, B.C.

Murphy says she believes young people are becoming increasingly concerned about the environment, but are often reluctant to study it after high school because they’re worried about job prospects.

“To have opportunities like this is essential to encourage that kind of thought,” she says. “We need to be thinking about what’s happening to our environment.”

Jackie Mann, who founded the Good Life Community Bike Shop in 2008, says interns at the shop have tried their hand at everything from refurbishing bikes to co-ordinating volunteers.

“It’s really helpful for the organization and it’s really great to support those kinds of career moves for people,” she says.

That’s something that Aberle, who volunteered at the shop before becoming an intern, will keep in mind when the internship ends and the job search begins.

Aberle says the administrative and communication skills gained at the shop will hopefully open up doors to other jobs, including working in community development or advocacy.

The internship has proven there are jobs out there for the environmentally and socially conscious young person, says Aberle.