Internships - the why and how

Illustrative representation of 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?

An internship is a kind of work experience when you get hands on experience in a business. 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 (a week or two). 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.

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 performing the work of an employee but not being paid for it
  • you are required to attend the workplace on set times and days
  • you are not receiving proper training, development or mentoring
  • you are required to pay for your internship.

Where to get help?

If you are confused about what constitutes an internship or think you have been exploited, there is help available:

More resources to help you

…Or you can browse Job Jumpstart for other ideas and suggestions of what to do next.