Two types of workers: The paid and the unpaid?
It’s never a good thing for interns to be in the headlines.
The situation Monica Lewinsky fell into when former US president Bill Clinton “did not have sexual relations” with her is the most extreme example of that.
On the far less controversial end of that scale, it’s been sad to hear some commentators say they’d trust interns less because of various scandals in the media and political worlds recently.
Unpaid internships are increasingly the way for young people to break into a number of industries, not just the creative ones. At least anecdotally, because abacus-flickers at the Bureau of Statistics don’t break down the numbers of them.
The intern-ship is sailing here in Oz and around the world. In his book Intern Nation, author Ross Perlin paints a picture of the United States as a country with a new underclass of Two Minute Noodle slurpers trying to pay the rent while not getting paid a cent in terms of work (or experience) at full-time internships.
Experts are worried that could happen here, where a class of people could work for free to get a foothold in the workplace.
“Who does that privilege? It privileges people who’ve got connections, or money,” says one of the country’s only workplace researchers studying internships, Professor Andrew Stewart of the University of Adelaide’s Law School.
Prof. Stewart reckons it’d be tough for him to become a practising lawyer if he was growing up nowadays and had to do as many unpaid internships as this generation.
Fact is, up until this point there’s been barely any research into the phenomenon in this country. We’re not even quite sure if many internships are legal or not here.
The professor’s putting together a report about that for the workplace ombudsman. He reckons they’re fine if they’re part of an educational program, a course requirement to complete.
But if they’re not, the whole system might need to change.
While I’m sure employers hope internship programs remain in place for the free labour they provide, as someone who essentially worked for free for three years as an intern, I’m absolutely certain they’re a valuable experience for prospective employees too.
It wasn’t easy for everyone. I remember a girl despairing over how she had to take a couple of months without pay to intern full time for the industry she really wanted to be in. It’s a bit of an ask.
But they can be so valuable when done properly. They’re a brilliant way to knock you back down to earth. To be mentored in whatever it is you want to be doing doing. To figure out what you really want to do. And to make mistakes without serious repercussions. Provided those mistakes aren’t a catalyst for impeachment trials.
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