Whatever you do, don't screw the intern

Whatever you do, don't screw the intern

Summary: I previously considered interns to be American things. I don't ever recall coming across them until that infamous matter involving Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.


I previously considered interns to be American things. I don't ever recall coming across them until that infamous matter involving Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

Now it seems that internships are all the rage; they are becoming popular in New Zealand, most notably in the ICT sector.

But interns don't always enjoy good fortune.

While it has often been the case that some youngsters would have a couple of weeks of work experience without pay, now it seems that many are expected to work for months for free.

One fifth of British employers have admitted to using interns as a source of cheap labour.

When I was in the UK last year, I noted that media, especially of the new media/online variety, are the worst offenders.

Adverts would seek applicants for roles that actually involve proper work, for which the participants would be lucky to get expenses. And all just to get a start in their careers.

Worse still, the ruling Conservative Party even auctioned off internships at city firms to raise money for party funds.

However, despite condemning the practice, more progressive voices, such as the Liberal-Democrats, the opposition Labour Party, the Guardian newspaper and the BBC, were also exposed for using unpaid staff.

Understandably, the furore raised questions about social equity, because internships prevent the poor and middle classes from getting the same start as those who have wealthy enough parents to support them while they work for nothing.

Fortunately, we don't seem to have the same exploitation of interns here yet.

In New Zealand, it would rub against our sense of a fair go, as much as our country likes doing things on the cheap. But, as a small country, word would also soon get around as to who these exploitative employers taking advantage were.

In addition, the job market in New Zealand and Australia is better than it is overseas, so young graduates don't have to sell themselves short. It's even the case in IT that the ongoing labour shortages strengthen the employees' hand. It's become not just about employers offering education and training, but also needing to "sell" their interns the idea of working for them as opposed to anyone else. Given this, they dare not be exploitative.

In other words, and in terms that former President Clinton might understand, we should not screw the intern.

Topics: Government, Government AU, IT Employment

Darren Greenwood

About Darren Greenwood

Darren Greenwood has been in journalism, not all of it IT, since the days of typewriters and long before the web spun its way around the world.

Coming from Yorkshire, he can be blunt, and though having resided in New Zealand, as well as Australia, for quite some time, he insists he is not one of the 'sheeple!'

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  • Short term internships are not necessarily a bad idea if they a validated by the unemployment agencies (Centrelink in Australia). Those with talent will get hired. For skilled jobs its not worth the cost of training, supervision, inconsistent quality etc to keep churning through interns.
  • Doing work for free is a con. So is sacrificing some income because you are 'learning', as most people in IT are learning, especially in these times of skills shortages.

    What is important is the ability to learn, solve problems and implement solutions quickly.
  • Darren, please be aware that in Australia it is illegal to not pay any employees. The only exception is kids from school and uni doing short term work experience. I heard this from an employment lawyer last week.
  • As described here, internships are fraught with legal risks to those companies that engage them. The same probably applies for 'work experience' staff but, I'd like to hear more from those who know.

    Firstly, if they aren't being paid are they technically employed?

    Can an intern be held to the same standards of liability as an employee? Better check your insurance policies.

    Who owns the intellectual property if it's produced by an intern? An intern could legitimately claim it as their own, you never paid them for it!

    What liability exists for faulty work products generated by interns? The end customer would assume the intern's 'employer' is responsible for ensuring the quality of work. I'm sure the interns 'employer' would have their legal department pass on the blame to the intern.

    As and end customer, could I negotiate a much lower fee from a supplier who uses low/zero paid interns?

    What about WorkCover? If your intern isn't covered they may have greater legal options to pursue those constrained by Workcover legislation!

    Interns should be treated in a manner similar to an apprenticed employee. They're effectively an employee but at a reduced rate of pay commensurate with their developing skill set.
    Scott W-ef9ad