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Am I Offering an Internship or Unpaid Work?

Recently, we wrote about why you should-definitely-100% intern. And we stand strong on that.

Internships are a great way for students to gain industry experience and get a real feel for the career they’re aiming for, and who is better to teach them than you?

But, today we saw a post in a Facebook group, Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine where a young woman shared an internship role description she saw advertised that entailed a heck of a lot more than what an intern should be doing.

The Australian Fair Work Ombudsman website highlights that internships and work experience that is unpaid is okay as long as there isn’t an employment relationship.

So how do you determine that? The Fair Work Ombudsman has a few ways to determine if your company’s internship is actually a legal internship or if they should be a paid employee. We’ve listed them below:

Reason for the arrangement

“Is the purpose of the work experience or internship to give the person work experience or to get the person to do work to help with the ordinary operation of the business?”

Your intern should be predominately observing the work you do, allowing them to ask questions and learn. Can they actually do work? Sure, but they should be assisting you with the role they are interested in, allowing them the opportunity to gain an insight into the industry and career.

Length of time

“Generally, the longer the period of the arrangement, the more likely the person is an employee.”

We believe an ideal internship is one week full-time. This allows the student a full week learning what life is like in your industry, and an opportunity to put their skills to use. If you’re after something longer, then ensure it’s to allow the opportunity to learn and develop skills and not just to benefit your work flow.

Significance to the business

“Is the work normally done by paid employees? Does the organisation need this work to be done?”

We hear a lot of people say, “I don’t have time to manage my social media; maybe I’ll get an intern?” Sorry to be the one to say it, but that is not how an internship works. An intern cannot replace the role of a paid employee.

Who’s getting the benefit?

“The person who’s doing the work should get the main benefit from the arrangement.”

An internship should be offered because you have valuable knowledge to pass onto a student building a career in your industry. But can you benefit from it? Sure. Your benefits may include fresh eyes in the industry, who may show you new ways to do certain things, or someone who can bring new ideas to the table.

Internships have many benefits, for both student and employer. Are they work? Yes. And that’s why you should consider if an internship is the correct fit for your business because ultimately, your reason for bringing on board an intern should be because you want to help someone who is at a point that you were once at – determined and striving for a career.

And you never know, your intern may lead to your next employee!

*This post is expanded on from the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman website and is in no way legal advice on the responsibilities or legalities of offering an internship.
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