Interns: Slaving away for our CVs ‘til we’re blue in the face
In this job climate instead of greedily battling for the last cent, many are competing for the first opportunity.
Only a short time ago, I was offered my first, official internship position. Conscious of how challenging it can be to secure such roles, I was eager to boast to my family of the accomplishment. The preliminary question and answer session wasn’t of where I would be interning, nor the duties I would be assuming. Rather my elation was met with a unified, “Is it paid?”
Finding a paid internship these days is like unearthing a talented Kardashian. There are plenty of internships, just not a lot of paid ones.
However, due to the proverbial ‘I-can’t-get-a-job-without-experience’ quandary an increasing number of individuals are sacrificing income for a stepping stone into their industry of choice.
Such a high prevalence of unpaid employment arrangements has prompted the Fair Work Ombudsman to launch a meticulous investigation. Two legal experts from the University of Adelaide will inquire into whether companies are taking advantage of a younger generation willing to do almost anything to crack into today’s particularly competitive job market.
Hardly coerced into allegedly ‘exploitative’ positions, fledgling interns fight tooth and nail for that one shot. Simply itching to get their foot in the door, internships facilitate a candid taste of the industry.
And despite what many may believe, these opportunities do possess value. Albeit that remuneration may not derive from digits scrawled crudely on a pay packet, the dividends emerge from the experience.
Within particular job markets, any practical experience that can be foraged ought to be. Especially since the competitive nature of the employment market renders tertiary studies next to futile if not bolstered by bouts of on-the-job learning.
At least that’s emblematic of the media industry. As a student of media and communications, we are continually informed that internships and work experience will be our point of differentiation.
At the end of the day when we’re tarrying at the metaphorical employment stand with our two-dollar degrees and two-dollar youthful enthusiasm, practical placements are conveyed as the certain je ne sais quoi we will want to be sporting.
And having undertaken my fair share of work experience, the skills you acquire are incomparable to that which students are exposed to in the university environment.
Your reimbursement contains reference letters, a sheet full of contacts, and the refreshing outlook that this career path is or isn’t one which you would like to pursue. For these precious employability commodities, an unpaid internship is a reasonable price to pay.
That’s not to discount the real-life horror stories regarding unpaid work. The tale of the young labourer committing a year to a business in the expectation of full-time employment only to leave empty-handed is the potential pitfall.
Unfortunately, the issue of self-regulation arises in response to such tales of injustice. At the most basic level, discernment of when one is getting the raw end of the deal is crucial. Unless you’re able to exploit the employer for all the insider knowledge and advice they can lend, you end up slaving away at the price of your time, rather than at the price of experience.
It is when internships are the mutually beneficial arrangements they were intended to be, that the results are invaluable.
Previously on The Punch: It’s hard to get a job. It’s even harder when this government service tries to help.
That being said, if the findings from the Fair Work enquiry reveal that paid internships are a legal entitlement, the outcome could be a double-edged sword.
Whilst interns would revel in combining experience with currency, these already limited positions would be severely monopolised. The sheer scarcity of roles could lead to increased nepotism overriding merit when it comes to dictating who attains such positions.
In truth, many companies have the means to provide interns with experience but not with an income. And often it is within these types of institutions that the most in depth learning occurs.
My experience at these smaller workplaces has been extremely positive. In fact, the very character of such companies permits interns and volunteers to explore nuances of the industry in much different ways. It gave me the freedom to make mistakes without fear of reprimand or the hindrance of numeric expectations. I dipped my toes into responsibilities which amateurs would only dream of undertaking. I was rewarded with a portfolio that is continually enhancing in both quantity and diversity.
Perhaps certain regulatory guidelines should be in place to avoid naïve hopefuls being taken for a ride, but by no means is an abolition of unpaid internships warranted. If this is the case, only a minority of us will gain the experience we require in order to truly tackle our future professions.
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