‘Is it worth doing an internship?’

Posted December 19, 2013, by Jo Messer

‘I'm a local uni student and am confused about the rules around internships as I've heard there are things we're not legally allowed to do. Are internships still a good idea and should I try to organise one myself or get my uni to do it?’

Felicity, 21, communications student

Internships are a fantastic way to gain valuable industry experience related to your field of study. There are many different kinds of work experience – some may be included as part of your course and some is entirely optional. The terms ‘internship’, ‘placement’ and ‘work experience’ are often used interchangeably. However, internships are normally undertaken towards the end of your qualification and are related directly to your course of study.

There’s been a lot of noise in the media lately about unpaid internships and Fair Work Australia has launched a crackdown on exploitation of interns, drawing attention to the Fair Work Act. If you’re doing an internship as part of your course then that will generally fall within the scope of the Fair Work Act. Anything outside of that needs to be carefully considered and may entitle you to be paid at the minimum wage.

Are internships a good idea?

Yes, absolutely! – but that is assuming that all the requirements are met. It’s important that your internship has real benefits, both to you and the employer. Your internship should have clear objectives and the expectations need to be clearly articulated.

Internships offer you an opportunity to:

  • Gain relevant career experience
  • Develop your industry knowledge
  • Build your professional networks
  • Develop your skills and confidence
  • Boost your resume
  • Gain a competitive advantage in the graduate employment market

Finding an internship

Finding an internship may not be easy and you’ll need to do your research and be persistent. The first step is to find out if your university offers a formalised program. Many courses have credit units that require you to complete industry-based learning and your university may have a directory of organisations that you can contact. Alternatively, you may have to find your own internship (which may or may not be for credit). Most universities have a jobs board so this is a good place to start. Also check out relevant professional associations and consider formal vacation programs and other industry-based programs. Many of these are advertised on Graduate Opportunities or Unigrad. You can also do a search on Student Internships, a directory of student internship opportunities.

A note on insurance

Before starting your internship you need to check if you are covered for insurance either by the university or by the employer. If you are paid during your internship then you are an employee and the responsibility for insurance falls to your employer. Most universities will offer indemnity insurance when an internship or placement is a formal requirement for a course. If you are undertaking an internship with an organisation that uses volunteers, then you should be covered by their volunteer insurance arrangements (this would apply, for example, to hospitals, not-for-profits and community organisations).

Jo Messer is a Career Development Specialist who has many years of experience in supporting and guiding students and graduates of some of Australia’s most respected universities, as well as mature-aged clients, across all facets of their career. She is a Professional Member of CDAA and an active member of NAGCAS. Whether you have a specific question about how to achieve your career goal or something more general, Jo is available to provide you with up-to-date advice.

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Jo Messer

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