Unpaid work experience - when is it okay?

Illustrative representation of Unpaid work experience - when is it okay?

A responsible employer will always make sure you are given proper training on how to handle equipment and keep safe on the work site.

Unpaid work experience is okay:

When it’s legal...

Unpaid work experience can take on different forms including vocational placements, unpaid internships, unpaid work experience and unpaid trials. With some of these arrangements it’s okay not to be paid for doing the work. With other arrangements, you are classed as an employee and should be paid.

When trying to work out whether a work experience arrangement forms an employment relationship, consider the following questions:

  • Are you undertaking a vocational placement?
  • Are you involved in a genuine volunteering arrangement?
  • Are you doing productive work?
  • Is the main benefit of the work arrangement to you?
  • Are you receiving a meaningful learning experience?
  • How long is the work arrangement for?
  • Are you required to attend the workplace or perform productive activities? 

When it’s safe...

Safe working conditions are just as important when you are on a work experience placement as when you are a paid worker. A responsible employer will always make sure you are given proper training on how to handle equipment and keep safe on the work site. Sometimes accidents happen, and when they do it’s always reassuring to know you can access insurance if you need medical treatment.

If you do work experience as part of your tertiary course or as a jobactive client then your insurance could be covered – but always check with your educational institution or jobactive provider. If they don’t provide coverage, talk to the employer about insurance.

When it gives you new skills and abilities...

Work experience can give you a chance to work with workplace coaches and mentors who will help you apply your skills and abilities in the workplace. If the work experience relates to your studies it will help you become familiar with the tasks you’ll eventually be expected to do in the workplace.

If you didn’t pursue hobbies, sports or volunteering while you were growing up, then unpaid work experience can be a good way to develop and demonstrate your life skills (like reliability and communication) and make yourself more employable. 

Need more information?

Watch this video from the Fair Work Ombudsman exploring When it is and is not okay to complete unpaid work, such as volunteering or interning.

These tools can help you:

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