Unpaid Internships: Opportunity or Exploitation
Entry-level job: minimum 2-3 years experience.
It’s a familiar sight for student jobseekers. You can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job. Internships are the answer to students looking for the experience, knowledge, skills and contacts to enter the workforce. But internships are shifting from a great way to open the door to opportunities, to a potentially exploitative environment.
There are plenty of internship horror stories. Know what you want and your rights, be aware of red flags, and do your research.
At its best, unpaid internships are a win-win situation. You get valuable experience and meet people in the industry. The business gets the extra help of an intern who is eager to learn and lend their talent. Internships can be fun, inspiring and reaffirming. They may lead to a job—directly, with an offer from the business where you’re interning, or indirectly, with that internship boosting your resume and scoring you an interview down the track.
Some courses have unpaid internships as compulsory topics, so it counts towards your degree.
Under the Fair Work Act an intern should not be doing the core work of the business, where the business is getting more value than the intern. Internships are not employment. You should be trying your hand at different tasks and maybe taking on an extra project that adds value to the business. Take Crocmedia as a bad example. Crocmedia was fined $24,000 for its unpaid internship, where interns were made to produce radio programs and take up graveyard shifts between midnight and 6am for six months to a year.
We’re seeing more and more businesses replacing graduate jobs with unpaid internships. This is making it harder to find employment out of uni. It’s also a shitty situation for people who can’t afford to work for free—which is only creating more barriers in the workforce.
Before applying for an unpaid internship, consider:
1. How will you benefit from the internship? You should be developing knowledge or skills, building a network, and adding to your resume.
2. Are you performing essential duties for the business? Interns shouldn’t be replacing employees.
3. How long does it go for? An unpaid internship should be short. It should not get in the way of study, work or any other commitments.
4. Are there opportunities that could come from the internship? Does the business have a history of hiring interns or have past interns gone onto the type of jobs you want? Is there someone in the company you want to work with?
5. Can you afford it?
6. Are there any red flags? Does the business have a bad reputation? Are there any signs of dodgy behaviour, poor quality output, or nastiness? Is the business actually asking you to pay to intern?
7. If it doesn’t comply with the Fair Work Act, don’t do it. As long as students take up these illegal and exploitative internships, the easier it is for businesses to continue offering them and taking advantage of students.
How to Find an Internship
2. Look at businesses that you love, people that you’d want to learn from, and top players in the industry. Check their website or contact them about internship opportunities with an enquiry email or phone call.
3. Check out the Flinders Careers and Employer Liaison Centre. They have a Work Ready Program offering to link you to unpaid work experience and volunteer opportunities. You can also make a meeting to chat to an advisor—they might have some ideas for how to find an internship that suits you.
4. Industry websites, magazines, newspapers or enewsletters. If you’re in the arts, for example, you should know about ArtsHub.
7. A thorough Google search!