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Are Internships Vital in a Competitive Job Market?

If your studies are coming to an end you’ll be wondering what’s next. If your industry is in demand you may find a job quickly. But if it’s competitive, you might consider further study to gain a competitive advantage. The other option is an internship.

What is an Internship?

Australian Internships states that an internship is the transition from study to work and is a necessary component to develop a student’s skills, making them more advanced and diligent when they finally have the opportunity to be a part of the working world.

Is an Internship Different to Work Experience?

Yes. Work experience gives graduates or entry-level job seekers the chance to get an overview of an industry or job by observing a professional in their day-to-day career. They may shadow this person for a few days or weeks but won’t carry out job-related tasks. As work experience requires very little responsibility the ‘work’ is generally unpaid.

An internship, on the other hand, is a fixed-term work placement that gives the participant opportunity to participate in work-related tasks that a paid member of staff would do. As such, internships are more likely to paid.

Should I be Paid for an Internship?

Fair Work Australia states that if the purpose of an internship is to give the person work experience it is less likely to be an employment relationship, which means it would be unpaid.

But if the person is doing work to help with the ordinary operation of the business or organisation an employment relationship arises.  If the work is productive, rather than just observation, learning, training or skill development, it’s more likely that the person’s an employee and as such should be paid.

If you’re wondering if your internship should be paid, visit Fair Work for details. You can also download the Unpaid Work Fact Sheet.


How to Find an Internship

General Manager of Australian Internships, Rebekah Salamatou, says there are many avenues students can take to pursue an internship, either directly reaching out to companies, utilising established networks through their schools and community groups, or selecting an approved internship program provider to tailor a program for them.

Seek – Internships advertises paid internships across many industries. You can apply online.

The Australian Government’s Job Active initiative offers internship opportunities to young people. If you’re a job seeker aged 17 to 24 you can gain work experience in a local business by taking part in an internship placement for between four and 12 weeks. An internship is an opportunity to show an employer what you can do and how you fit into their business. Internships are unpaid by the business, instead you will receive an extra $200 a fortnight on top of your income support payment.

What are the Benefits of an Internship?

Salamatou says there are many benefits to an internship, including:

  • Opportunities to internalise their resumes
  • Gaining exposure to a real working environment
  • Developing skills and knowledge related to their career
  • Receiving hands on training in the workplace
  • Developing workplace connections, which may open doors in the future
  • Learning how to deal with challenges and gauge an in-depth understanding of the real working world though hands-on exposure and experience

She says internships offer either paid or non-paid training. “The focus of an internship program should always be to offer structured, tailored training which is designed to bridge the skills gap identified in young professionals.

“Generally internships are linked to candidates academic backgrounds or training experience, offering further skill development by enabling candidates to transfer prior knowledge into a real workplace setting.

“An internship is a great way to develop necessary skills and experience, which is critical for career success,” says Salamatou.

Former intern and now full-time employee of Zadro, Jessica McLean, agrees. McLean says internships are vital to career success. She now runs the creative agency’s internship program. “Internships are a valuable part of a career pathway in a competitive landscape,” she says.

Her advice to graduates seeking legitimate internships is to ensure the business values young professionals and that it has a structured program of development. “Most importantly, give every opportunity 100 per cent as you never know where your career starter might come from.”

Did you know?

  • 95 per cent of employers said candidate experience is a factor in hiring decisions (National Association of Colleges and Employers – NACE)
  • 60 per cent of Australian employers (70% globally) say international graduates have insufficient practical experience to employ (International Graduate Outcomes and Employer Perceptions – AEI, 2010).


An Internship Success Story

An internship with Horizon Communication Group led to a full-time position for public relations student Annika Postlethwaite. She says a studio tour of the company inspired her to apply for the internship.

She contacted the company’s principal via email straight away. “All I did was attach my resume and ask if Horizon would be willing to have me come in as an intern – to which he said yes.”

Postlethwaite says her internship provided invaluable insight into the communications industry. “There’s only so much theory can teach you, but seeing how it all works in the flesh put everything I’ve learned into perspective.”

It also gave her the opportunity to make connections within the industry. “I felt confident that if I left Horizon without being offered a position, I could contact the team afterwards to ask advice on applying for other jobs.”

“Once I got my foot in the door, I worked hard to prove myself and to show that I was always willing to learn, and I got along well with the rest of the team. So I’d like to think that they recognised I would be a good fit for the company.”

Postlethwaite is proof that an internship can lead to a permanent position. “It makes perfect sense – if the company is looking for a new employee why not hire someone they already know and who in-turn knows the business?”

Her advice to students considering internships is to apply, regardless of how qualified they feel. “If you have a good attitude and you’re willing to give your best, you’ll do fine and learn along the way.”