Internships - the why and how


An internship can be a great way to build your workplace experience. But you need to understand your rights when it comes to doing an internship.

What is an internship?

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), an internship is a method of on-the-job training with an employer. 

There are three main types of internships:

  • Paid internships. If you are being paid for your internship you will likely be working set hours and doing productive work. These types of internships often last at least 3 months.
  • Unpaid internship. These internships are usually short-term. They give you the chance to better understand the role by job shadowing, doing training and learning about the workplace. You should not be doing productive work. If you are, you need to be paid the relevant minimum wage.
  • Work placement. If you are studying, an unpaid internship can be a required part of your course. Also called a vocational or work placement, these are usually a required component for highly specialised courses like medicine, nursing and teaching. You can usually arrange these placements through your education provider. As a rule, if you are not getting course credit for an internship AND you are doing productive work, you should be paid.

    Examples of paid and unpaid internships are available on the FWO website.

What are the benefits of an internship?

A good internship should:

  • help you build your skills and knowledge of the role and industry
  • give you experience to help you get your first job
  • develop your networks and networking skills.

How do I know whether my internship is legal?

As an unpaid intern, it's up to you to decide when and how long you attend the business.

It should be you, not the employer, who is getting the most value from the arrangement. If you are expected to perform tasks that an organisation needs done, then you should be paid for the work you do.

Red flags for unpaid internships include:

  • You are doing work of an employee and not being paid for it.   
  • You are generally doing work yourself rather than observing the work of others.
  • The main benefit of the arrangement is to the business and not you.
  • You are not receiving a meaningful learning experience, training or skill development.
  • The arrangement continues for more than a short period of time. 

Where to get help?

If you are confused about what constitutes an internship or think your internship may not be legal, there is help available:

More resources to help you