The Issue

The Issue

What’s the deal with internships in Australia?

Internships are a new and increasingly prevalent form of work in Australia. They combine education and employment to support young Australians’ transition from study into work.

When they are high quality and properly delivered, internships can help to train the next generation of Australia’s professional workforce. However, if mismanaged, internships may fail to deliver educational and training benefits, breach workplace laws, create social inequality, and leave young people vulnerable to discrimination, harassment and bullying. This is why to achieve the best outcomes for interns, employers and communities, the implications of internships need to be carefully considered.

What’s the deal with internships in Australia?

Internships are a new and increasingly prevalent form of work in Australia. They combine education and employment to support young Australians’ transition from study into work.

When they are high quality and properly delivered, internships can help to train the next generation of Australia’s professional workforce. However, if mismanaged, internships may fail to deliver educational and training benefits, breach workplace laws, create social inequality, and leave young people vulnerable to discrimination, harassment and bullying. This is why to achieve the best outcomes for interns, employers and communities, the implications of internships need to be carefully considered.

The benefits of great internships

For interns

Interns gain practical education and exposure to industry, and build relationships with employers.

For employers

Employers gain fresh ideas, creativity, talent and enthusiasm from the next generation of talent.

For industry

Industry gains access to a pool of graduate-level employees who, following their experience as interns, are ‘work ready’ from day one.

For education providers

Academic teaching is complemented by hands-on, career-relevant education, better integrating their services into the Australian economy.

What can go wrong with internships?

Internship providers, although in fact regulated under Australia’s tertiary education and workplace relations systems, often treat internships as a novel, unregulated relationship. Increasingly, they are seen as a channel for gaining labour without the costs and other obligations that come with hiring an employee. Additionally, vulnerable interns may lack knowledge of, or are unwilling to enforce, their entitlements.

 

As a result of these misconceptions and vulnerabilities, Interns Australia has identified a number of commonly recurring problems with internships, including:

  • interns performing menial tasks, without receiving meaningful training, education or exposure;
  • interns being unlawfully unpaid or paid less than minimum or award wage, sometimes for months of work and amounting to thousands of dollars in lost wages;
  • temporary internships replacing permanent jobs, in effect reducing the number of entry-level positions on the market;
  • intellectual property produced by interns being used or misappropriated;
  • interns paying to undertake internships, with some placements costing thousands of dollars;
  • internships being ‘sold’ or ‘auctioned’ to the highest bidder;
  • interns being dismissed or intimidated when they have raised pay or conditions with their employer; and
  • interns being denied references for the work they have performed, which was often performed over long periods of time and at significant expense to the intern.
What can go wrong with internships?

Internship providers, although in fact regulated under Australia’s tertiary education and workplace relations systems, often treat internships as a novel, unregulated relationship. Increasingly, they are seen as a channel for gaining labour without the costs and other obligations that come with hiring an employee. Additionally, vulnerable interns may lack knowledge of, or are unwilling to enforce, their entitlements.

As a result of these misconceptions and vulnerabilities, Interns Australia has identified a number of commonly recurring problems with internships, including:

  • interns performing menial tasks, without receiving meaningful training, education or exposure;
  • interns being unlawfully unpaid or paid less than minimum or award wage, sometimes for months of work and amounting to thousands of dollars in lost wages;
  • temporary internships replacing permanent jobs, in effect reducing the number of entry-level positions on the market;
  • intellectual property produced by interns being used or misappropriated;
  • interns paying to undertake internships, with some placements costing thousands of dollars;
  • internships being ‘sold’ or ‘auctioned’ to the highest bidder;
  • interns being dismissed or intimidated when they have raised pay or conditions with their employer; and
  • interns being denied references for the work they have performed, which was often performed over long periods of time and at significant expense to the intern.

“I worked 20+ hours a week to support myself, whilst studying full-time, whilst trying to work 20+ hours a week as an intern (unpaid). I cannot even express how emotionally and psychologically damaging it was.”

– Respondent, Interns Australia 2015 Annual Survey

“I worked 20+ hours a week to support myself, whilst studying full-time, whilst trying to work 20+ hours a week as an intern (unpaid). I cannot even express how emotionally and psychologically damaging it was.”

– Respondent, Interns Australia 2015 Annual Survey

Why should we care about fair, quality internships?

One of the risks associated with Australia’s fast emerging internship culture is that unpaid internships will become a prerequisite for paid work, which could have significant social and economic consequences.

When you ask people to work without pay, you exclude those who have talent and drive but simply can’t afford to work for free. This entrenches economic and social disadvantage, and is detrimental to Australian industry, whose access to skilled and professional labour is limited to those from wealthier backgrounds. This scenario is in conflict with Australia’s egalitarian, meritocratic values – opportunities and advancement should be based on a person’s talent and hard work, not their, or their family’s, financial status.

This scenario is becoming the reality in Australia. Our research indicates that the majority of university students complete multiple internships and that the completion of internships is becoming an important factor in securing professional, post-graduate employment. Of these internships, our research indicates that most are unlawfully unpaid or underpaid, with the average intern losing out on $6,000 in lost wages over the course of their internship(s).

Other implications of an unpaid, unregulated internship culture include:

  • the reduction in the quality of tertiary education, as there are currently no quality controls for university-sponsored internships
  • the undermining of workers’ conditions, as temporary and unpaid internships may be used to replace permanent and paid employees; and,
  • the gendered nature of low quality, unpaid internships (anecdotally, unpaid internships are more common in industries that predominantly employ women).
Why should we care about fair, quality internships?

One of the risks associated with Australia’s fast emerging internship culture is that unpaid internships will become a prerequisite for paid work, which could have significant social and economic consequences.

When you ask people to work without pay, you exclude those who have talent and drive but simply can’t afford to work for free. This entrenches economic and social disadvantage, and is detrimental to Australian industry, whose access to skilled and professional labour is limited to those from wealthier backgrounds. This scenario is in conflict with Australia’s egalitarian, meritocratic values – opportunities and advancement should be based on a person’s talent and hard work, not their, or their family’s, financial status.

This scenario is becoming the reality in Australia. Our research indicates that the majority of university students complete multiple internships and that the completion of internships is becoming an important factor in securing professional, post-graduate employment. Of these internships, our research indicates that most are unlawfully unpaid or underpaid, with the average intern losing out on $6,000 in lost wages over the course of their internship(s).

Other implications of an unpaid, unregulated internship culture include:

  • the reduction in the quality of tertiary education, as there are currently no quality controls for university-sponsored internships
  • the undermining of workers’ conditions, as temporary and unpaid internships may be used to replace permanent and paid employees; and,
  • the gendered nature of low quality, unpaid internships (anecdotally, unpaid internships are more common in industries that predominantly employ women).

How can Australia promote fair, high-quality internships?

This is where Interns Australia comes in!

Interns Australia exists to raise awareness and influence change so that. Through our promotion of internship issues, our support of interns and employers, and our research, we are working towards making Australia the world leader in fair, quality internships.

Take a look through our website for more information on our work in bringing out the best in Australian internships.

How can Australia promote fair, quality internships?

This is where Interns Australia comes in!

Interns Australia exists to raise awareness and influence change so that. Through our promotion of internship issues, our support of interns and employers, and our research, we are working towards making Australia the world leader in fair, quality internships.

Take a look through our website for more information on our work in bringing out the best in Australian internships.

Want to establish or improve your internship program? We can help.

Interns Australia
ABN: 99 604 465 572
ACN: 604 465 572

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Contact

admin@internsaustralia.org.au
 1300 612 903
Media enquiries: 0432 905 793
Registered office:
500 Harris Street
Ultimo NSW 2007

 

 

 

 

Contact Details

Interns Australia
ABN: 99 604 465 572
ACN: 604 465 572

admin@internsaustralia.org.au
 1300 612 903
Media enquiries: 0432 905 793
Registered office:
500 Harris Street
Ultimo NSW 2007

 

 

 

 

Privacy Statement
Terms & Conditions

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