They’re enthusiastic, highly capable and keen to learn, but it’s important to remember interns are not free labour, writes Emma Williams.
There are many benefits to hiring an intern, both for your business and for the intern.
An intern gains valuable industry experience and gets to put all the theory they’ve learnt into practice. Your business not only gets an extra pair of hands but, often, an enthusiastic, highly capable person with knowledge, skills and a fresh perspective.
You may also find a great future employee who will already have had the necessary training. Even if they do not stay on there’s the possibility the intern who has a productive and satisfying experience will tell others how enjoyable it was to work in your business.
However, before taking on an intern there are some very serious things you need to consider. Interns are not free labour and internships or work experience are usually undertaken by students through legitimate work-based learning programs and placements, which are linked to formal training through universities or other training institutions.
Under the Fair Work Act 2009, a vocational placement is a working arrangement where all of the following apply: the worker is not paid a wage, it is a requirement of an Australian-based education or training course; and it is authorised under a law or administrative arrangement of the Commonwealth, a state or territory.
If you take on an unpaid work placement which does not fit those requirements, you could be breaking the law. The Fair Work Act states that unpaid work experience and internships can be illegal if the person is in a legally binding employment relationship, based on factors like length of time, obligations and who benefits from the arrangement.
The longer the period of work, and the less observational the role, the more likely it is an employment relationship has been formed. If this is the case then the “intern” should be treated as an employee and receive payment at minimum wage level, plus other employee entitlements.
Employers who fail to meet their obligations under the Fair Work Act can face penalties of up to $10,200 for an individual and $51,000 for a corporation.
Earlier this year, Melbourne company Big Datr created an uproar on social media after they advertised on Seek for interns to work for three, six and 12 months at a time with no financial compensation.
The company required interns to do real work, including set goals, conduct research to identify brand marketing strategies, contribute to and maintain internal libraries and “squashing bugs” in the system.
In return the company offered to reward interns “with emoji” (emoticons) and free breakfast. Big Datr pulled the ads after they were slammed on Twitter, proving that as well as the legal ramifications, companies also need to think how using interns can damage their reputation.
As a manager you need to keep in mind how you treat your interns. You may view them as a hindrance because you need to constantly watch them and train them, but it is important to remember they’re giving up their own time and are eager to learn.
It is important to make them feel like part of the team by emphasising the importance of their work and how they’re positively affecting the company. Give them varied and interesting tasks, perhaps a task they can complete from beginning to end, and follow it up with constant feedback so they feel they are really getting something out of the experience.
If managed correctly, interns can make very valuable contributors to your team.
This article appeared in the May 2014 edition of Management Today, AIM’s national monthly magazine.