Why internships aren’t what they used to be

12 Mar 2019
Why internships aren’t what they used to be

There are more people doing internships now than ever before and this increase didn’t happen overnight. However, it’s not only the increase in students undertaking internships that is noteworthy. It’s the nature of the internships themselves that are different from how they once were.

Back in the day, people only undertook internships, work placements or periods of unpaid work to find out more about an industry. Placements existed to help students gain a better understanding of work in a particular field and guide them in selecting the right subjects or courses to reach their career goals.

Take the Year 10 work experience program, for instance. In theory, it is designed to give students a taste of life at work and help them select the right subjects as they enter Years 11 and 12, to match their preferred career path.

In reality, it’s not like that for all students.

Here’s why internships aren’t the way they used to be.

Internships lead to employment

The kids in Year 10 who are only 15 or 16 years old are already feeling the brunt of how hard it is to find a job, which is why they are using their work experience opportunity to gain experience in an area where they could potentially find employment in the short term.

Many of these students are desperately seeking to undertake their internships at retail stores, with the hopes that they will be hired by the company in a more permanent capacity.

While this is the case at high school, students and graduates at all levels are looking to complete an internship with the intention of it leading to employment.

Graduate Careers Australia found that in 2015, 67.4% of bachelor degree graduates were employed four months after graduating. These statistics combine full-time and part-time work and do not take into account the number of students who are working in fields not related to their area of study.

Students and graduates at all levels of education are feeling the need to intern, as they see that it not only leads to a job, but a job they want.

Internships are no longer an option

Internships are often embedded in courses, even at tertiary level. Education providers are seeing the need to give students practical experience and have introduced compulsory requirements of courses that involve internships.

These courses do not give students the option to intern. Rather, it is mandatory.

As these internships are completed by students already locked into their preferred course, they are not designed to help them discover their desired area of study, but again have a focus on obtaining experience for future employment.

This is another reason why internships aren’t fulfilling the purpose they once were designed to achieve.

Experience is expected

Employers don’t want to hire someone with only the theoretical knowledge learnt at university or TAFE.

It’s now an expectation that work experience has been completed to complement studies. Some students even actively seek courses involving a working component, over courses that do not offer such a thing.

The existence of the Professional Year program for internationals is an example of this. Designed with work experience front and centre, the course aligns with the nature of internships today, and that is, that internships are a vital pathway to gaining permanent employment.

With a shift in the role that they play, internships are now more important than they have ever been, as they’re no longer just to get an insiders look into an industry, but rather a foot in the door.