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Internships help you gain valuable industry experience and connect with professionals in your chosen field, but it’s an unfortunate reality that interns can be taken advantage of, often doing the work of a paid employee for free or minimal pay – even though it’s against the rules.
‘Unpaid interns shouldn’t be completing the same type of work as paid staff without reward,’ says Deakin University’s Work Integrated Learning manager, Matthew Cameron.
‘Under the Fair Work provisions, unpaid interns should be gaining some sort of value from an internship. This can be in the form of training, mentoring or job-shadowing.’
Here’s how to make sure your internship is above board and an insightful window into your future career.
Ideally, you’ll receive a contract from your employer that outlines the details of your internship. This is less common for unpaid internships, which are completed for university credit, but there should still be some form of agreement. A paid internship, however, must include a contract.
‘There should always be some sort of written agreement between the student, host and university regarding the nature of the internship,’ Cameron says.
He says it’s really important to agree on the scope of your duties verbally and in writing before the start of the internship, and to understand your rights as an intern.
‘This is so you can readily identify when the organisation you’re working with is not meeting their employer responsibilities,’ Cameron says.
Landed an internship with your dream organisation? It’s easy fall into a trap of being overly excited about the opportunity and forgetting about your rights.
Even though you might feel inexperienced, you’re entitled to fair treatment, Cameron explains.
‘Internships are a great way for students to better understand the nature of their chosen study area, but a mutual understanding between the student and the host of the internship is essential,’ he says.
Understanding what you’re going to do before you begin the internship is your right, so you can feel confident broaching the topic with the organisation.
‘If you don’t have a clear understanding or agreement with the host as to what the day-to-day tasks will be, the university is unable to approve any application for credit bearing internships,’ Cameron says.
‘Students shouldn’t be entering into agreements without understanding the nature of the role and the employer’s expectations of them.’
Every internship is different. You might be working on a building site, in a lab or at a desk. The legislation that governs your rights can change depending on your situation, Cameron explains.
‘Paid and unpaid roles can bring about different rights,’ he says. ‘For example, students undertaking paid internships may enter an employer-employee relationship as part of the experience. This may give rise to additional rights such as sick leave and annual leave, which are normally afforded to paid employees.’
If you’re keen to land a full-time position with the organisation, you’re in luck. Cameron says it’s common for companies to use internships to aid graduate recruitment.
‘Many organisations use interns and formal internship programs as an applicant pool for graduate level roles,’ he says. ‘It allows them to gather a stronger understanding of the student’s capabilities as well as professionalism and the cultural fit within a team.’
Ultimately, it’s important to protect your rights and try to avoid being thrown into the deep end with minimal experience too early on. This can increase stress and cloud your overall experience during the internship – which, at its core, is an opportunity to enjoy while gaining valuable experience you need to progress in your career.
If you have any questions or concerns about your internship you’ve been offered you can get in touch with your Faculty WIL team.
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