“Build experience”

“Get your foot in the door!”

“Develop skills!”

“Gain exposure”

“An opportunity to network!”

If you’ve ever thought about getting an internship or work experience, you’re guaranteed to have come across these phrases. The descriptions sound like the beginning of a horror story, the kind of nightmare narrative that cement your career into adulthood.

So, it begins – adulthood, I mean: paying the bond, the rent, water bills, electricity bills and if you ask a Baby Boomer, the $4 coffees and avocado toasts. Eating them everyday is a must for us! We’d just…disappear without them.

According to Interns Australia, 87% of internships are unpaid. These internships, whether they be a social media intern at a start-up in Surry Hills or an actuarial intern at KPMG, are a necessity in the current job market. Employers value LinkedIn’s furnished with skills and work experience, long before you reach the final year of university.

According to a report commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Employment in late 2016, 58% of respondents aged 18-29 had undertaken unpaid work experience in the last 5 years.

Taking internships as a part of the courses at university could cost a student anywhere between $800-$5000. Under the guise of unit codes such as MDIA3007 or COMM2222, you’re effectively paying to work, all in the name of building experience and gaining exposure.

What’s worse is internship ‘brokers’, charging up to $10,000 to place young Australians into internships.  

But the question begs, how do you pay for the necessities if you’re working for free (or paying to work, in many cases)? If the only hope is a flippant note at the end of an internship ad, “an opportunity for a full-time role if we feel you are the right fit?”

News flash: there probably isn’t a job waiting for you at the end. Professor McDonald, one of the researchers of the 2016 report says that “The evidence that unpaid work experience actually leads to better employment outcomes is very mixed.”

This is the dilemma most young Australians face. 

Last December, NSW Labor vowed to ban “exploitative” unpaid internships…if it won the elections this year.

We all know how that turned out.  

While I’m not denying the importance of experience or exposure (nor am I, a second-year media student, in the privileged position to turn down an unpaid internship), the grey area surrounding exploitation and experience is a fine one, and one that should be more clearly defined. Further, the rights of young workers should be fiercely protected by our elected government.

So, if you’re currently living at home (ideally somewhere in the North Shore), who’s neither in need of time or money, unpaid internships are the dream pathway to a graduation filled with job security. For the rest of us, it’ll be a fine balance between juggling two jobs, full-time university and making time for work experience someplace in the middle. 

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