Finance Work Unpaid internship study finds half of young Australians work for free

Unpaid internship study finds half of young Australians work for free

unpaid internships
More than half of interns surveyed since 2011 have not been paid. Photo: Shutterstock
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More than half of Australia’s young jobseekers have participated in unpaid work experience, but it’s a challenge for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

That’s the finding from a landmark study commissioned by the Employment Department and conducted by researchers from around the country into the practice of unpaid work experience.

More than half of the 3800 surveyed (58 per cent) aged 18-29 had participated in some form of internship in the past five years, with over a quarter aged 30-64.

But the time comes with costs:

– More than a quarter reduced their hours of paid work for work experience.

– One in five paid for their own insurance.

– Nearly one in four had to travel longer than an hour to get to their work experience placement.

“These costs are disproportionately borne by respondents from lower socio-economic backgrounds,” the report found, arguing they are less likely to have participated in unpaid work experience in the past five years.

The research warns the gap in access to unpaid internships may widen if the common phenomenon continues and becomes a critical prerequisite for securing paid work.

“Consideration should be given to the kinds of policy responses which might redress unequal access to (unpaid work experience), such as scholarships or additional/top up income support,” the researchers said.

One in five surveyed undertook the experience as part of a higher education course, while another one in five did so as part of vocational training.

Nearly one in 12 participated as a requirement for receiving Youth Allowance or the dole.

Unpaid internships
More than half of the 3800 surveyed had worked for free since 2011. Photo: AAP

Most were satisfied with their recent time undertaking work experience – with a quarter of all placements leading to work – but those forced to work for benefits recorded the lowest satisfaction.

Researcher Professor Andrew Stewart said it was perfectly ok to participate in unpaid work if part of an educational training program.

“But if you’re not that’s when we get into a grey area,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

The findings come ahead of the Turnbull government’s announced PaTH program beginning on April 1, offering jobseekers under 25 access to four to 12 week internships and a $200 fortnightly supplement.

The department funded the research which was undertaken by the University of Technology Sydney, Queensland University of Technology and University of Adelaide.