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Are your kids considering an internship? It could be a great career move – or a form of indentured servitude. Tonya Turner explores the pros and cons for parents and their kids to be aware of.
It’s challenging for school or university leavers to find that ideal job, and some real-world experience can add value to a CV. Interning can be a terrific gateway to suitable and satisfying employment, but it can also be discouraging if not approached with a certain amount of planning and caution. While many reputable companies and organisations offer excellent internships providing students or job seekers with valuable experience, others are much less organised and in the worst cases unlawful.
Dr Alan McAlpine, associate director of strategic partnerships in the Student Success Group at the Queensland University of Technology, says interns should have clear and realistic expectations about what a company’s internship program can provide.
“Internships should help connect their learning with what goes on in the workplace and get experience that opens their eyes to what a workplace is like if they’ve never been in one before,” he says.
The main benefits of well-run internships include building your confidence in what you’re learning and how you can apply it in the workplace; building connections and broadening your network to open doors down the track, and gaining a better understanding of the path you wish to go down.
“Often students aren’t clear in what direction they want to go in, so it gives them a chance to experience something and change if it’s not what they expected,” Dr McAlpine says.
While internships can either be paid or unpaid, Dr McAlpine says to be careful of unpaid or ongoing arrangements where interns are expected to perform the work of regular employees.
“If it’s attached to a university and the student is getting some credit for their experience as a unit of study, they can be confident there is some value in it... If it reads like a job description and they’re not going to pay you, they’re clearly exploiting the intern, so that’s probably the red flag they need to be careful of,” he says.
Generally, if you’re an employee and you are paid $450 or more before tax in a calendar month, you will also be eligible for superannuation.
the minimum you must be paid is called the super guarantee (SG)
the SG is currently 9.5% of an employee’s ordinary time earnings
the SG must be paid at least four times a year, by the quarterly due dates
As an employee, this applies whether you work full time, part time or as a casual
That’s money for your future, so don’t lose track of it.
Here’s what to know about lost super
The Fair Work Ombudsman outlines the rights of interns to help them determine whether their work experience arrangement is above board. “The driver often that tips the balance is they want to make that connection, they want to get that experience to put on their resume, so it’s a fine line they need to be careful of,” Dr McAlpine says.
Life is busy for Tharanga Gunasekera. The full-time university student is currently completing a Bachelor of Engineering at the Queensland University of Technology while interning at an engineering consultancy firm in Brisbane city three to four days a week. She admits time management is key to staying on top of her workload.
“I realised that if I really wanted to narrow down the industry I want to eventually work in, I had to gain some real-world exposure while I was studying,” she says.
The paid internship initially ran for three months and counted towards a placement subject in her university course. After that, she was asked to stay on at the company as an undergraduate process engineer.
“Interning is an effective way of expanding your professional network, making connections and building relationships with professionals in the industry,” she says.
The main benefits of the internship have been developing her professional communication skills, gaining exposure to different sectors of engineering, growing her technical capabilities and knowledge and learning the importance of continuous development.
“The learning curve between university and the industry can be pretty steep,” she says.
Balancing full-time studies with interning has been challenging and has required careful planning.
“It comes down to how you organise yourself and how you prioritise. I plan out my days and list out all my assessment pieces that are due during the semester. That way I have a good understanding of when I will need to dial back on my internship days and dedicate my time to university assignments,” she says.
“My workplace has been extremely flexible and has allowed me to take time off whenever required.”
Gunasekera wouldn’t hesitate to recommend interning and says it is important to show initiative when it comes to finding the right company.
“Attending industry nights and careers events are imperative, as it not only gives you direct access to professionals in your field but also allows you to step outside your comfort zone and approach potential employers,” she says.
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Personal view disclaimer
The views of the author are not necessarily the views of the QSuper Board and QInvest Limited Board. We’ve put this information together as general information only and you should get professional advice before relying on this information.
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