Internships. Are they necessary?

One day we all woke up and ‘internship’ was a part the Australian vernacular, suddenly an informal part of our learning and employment process. And it seems that internships are here to stay with stats1 reporting a marked increase of participation since 2013. So, if you’re currently studying or thinking of studying an event management course, it’s probably best to be informed in case you find yourself going down the internship road.

The rules around unpaid work are often difficult to understand. So let’s take a minute or two to look at 1. what exactly is an internship, 2. what are the pros and cons of an internship and 3. is landing an internship an absolute requirement for employment?

1. What is an internship?

According to the fact sheet from the Fair Work Ombudsman, there are different types of unpaid work;

  • Volunteering; when someone works for the benefit of someone else e.g. a charity.
  • Unpaid internship; meaningful experience within a work environment.
  • Vocational placement; the same as an unpaid internship but is part of a course.

We asked Billie Cox, the Manager of Industry Engagement at CoEM the difference between volunteering and a placement or internship. “A list of volunteering experiences can look great on a graduate’s CV and are encouraged as a way of experiencing an event on the day. But work placements go to the next level by giving participants a more ‘real life’ taste of what’s involved in running an event; from the pre-organisation, through to event day, to the debrief or ‘closing off’ of the event; basically the whole picture from beginning to end”.

Let’s just concern ourselves with placement or internship situations for now. According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, “Vocational placements provide students with the opportunity to apply the theory and skills they learned while studying in a professional workplace”. But there’s a fine line between receiving meaningful learning experience, training or skill development and doing productive work for an organisation that could and should be done by a paid employee.

So what is acceptable practice when it comes to placements? Here at CoEM, we have a simple (and slightly flexible) guideline; one to three days per week for a 10-12 week duration. Anything that’s way outside this parameter should be questioned and negotiated i.e. if the internship calls for four days per week over six months you should at least be asking for some remuneration such as a travel or food allowance.

Christina, a previous CoEM student, worked in an internship with Fairfax Events. Terms were: one day per week for three months. Not only was she working on pre-event preparations for the SMH Half Marathon, which she found “totally inspiring”, she also got to work on-site during event time. She felt that she gained invaluable industry experience throughout the whole process. Concurrently, the feedback from Fairfax is excellent, “Christina has been an absolutely fabulous addition to our team. She is working closely with my colleague… who looks after our charities for sporting events and her assistance has been invaluable.” Clearly, this has been a mutually beneficial experience for both student and host organisation and a successful example of a placement situation.

SMH Half Marathon

This brings us quite nicely to the next point:

2. Pros (for) and cons (against) of an internship

Pros

  • Practical experience in real life work situations can further develop skills learned in the classroom and produce work-ready graduates.
  • Time spent in a workforce situation gives confidence when applying for jobs.
  • A list of volunteering hours and at least one internship with a glowing reference is an appealing addition to anyone’s resume and is highly looked upon by employers in the event industry.

Billie Cox gets regular feedback from both sides, “Any form of unpaid work can be extremely beneficial. The industry as a whole sees an internship as real value as employers are after graduates who are work-ready. Sometime it’s hard to get that first job, but a candidate with one or two internships on their resume tends to stand out.”

Cons

  • Desperate job seekers could be taken advantage of and could end up doing several internships in a row without a sniff of a job offer.
  • Some internships (usually those that are highly sought after) may ask for unreasonable terms e.g. 4 days per week for six months.
  • Unpaid roles can unfairly disadvantage those who can’t afford to time off from their work/study timetables.

3. Is landing an internship an absolute requirement for employment in events?

The simple answer is no. Doing an internship is not the only way to get a foot in the industry. There are still plenty of graduates applying for roles as event organisers by traditional methods. But if you’re wanting to absolutely increase your chances of finding a job before, during or after graduation, you will stand a much better chance if you have done your fair share of volunteering (think of all the contacts you could make by putting your hand up for 15 different volunteering opportunities) and at least one internship or vocational placement.

Let’s leave the last word to Damian Negus, one of our industry partners in the music festival sector, “Any experience will be of benefit. As most events are under time and budget constraints, hiring people that already have some basic knowledge and general understanding of how an event comes together is an asset.”

And the absolute last word from Ashley, a recent CoEM graduate, “The internship with Out There Productions was an amazing experience! We attended all the production meetings and they treated us like we were a part of the team. They gave us responsibility, asked our ideas and listened to our contributions… a great insight into the production of a major event like this (Sydney vs Chelsea 2015).”

And the absolute, absolute last word from Megan, regarding an internship with Love On the Lawn Wedding Festival, “That internship has turned into something amazing. Honestly without the Industry Engagement Program I wouldn’t have this opportunity. I am so thankful.”

If you would like a little more on the subject of unpaid work please download the Unpaid Work Fact Sheet from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

1Andrew Stewart and Rosemary Owens, 2013, Experience or Exploitation? The Nature, Prevalence and Regulation of Unpaid Work Experience, Internships and Trial Periods in Australia, Fair Work Ombudsman

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