5 things you need to know before taking on an intern


An internship has the potential to be a valuable and mutually beneficial relationship for all parties involved.

On one hand, students are able to receive invaluable experience that will likely assist in their transition to the workforce.

On the other hand, businesses are able to trial a new potential employee, without the associated risks of taking a fresh graduate on.

It also gives small businesses a chance to grow their team and share the current staff workload without the full expense of a new employee.

However, there are many things to consider before taking an intern on. Is the internship you are offering even legal?

Many small businesses get caught out by thinking they’re doing the right thing by investing their time and energy into an intern, when in fact they could be setting their business up for potential legal action.

Having an intern join your business should be an exciting and rewarding experience for both parties involved, so before taking one on and to ensure the process runs smoothly, consider the following elements.

When an internship crosses into dangerous legal territory

There is still ambiguity around the rules of internships and whether interns are entitled to wages. The short answer is: it depends.

If the internship is unpaid, the intern must be enrolled in a vocational course and subsequently be receiving credit points towards their degree as a result of undertaking an internship.

If the student is not doing the internship as part of course requirements, then they must be paid minimum wage. This corresponds with specific laws that relate to unpaid work in Australia and if not followed, it’s the business that is most as risk, not the intern.

Few are aware that Public Liability Insurance does not cover internships. That means your business is not protected if an unpaid intern makes a claim against you as a result of personal injury on premises, or for any property damage.

If the internship is part of a vocational course and you have an agreement in place, your contractual agreement will likely protect you.

A three-way agreement is a must

If a student is undertaking an internship as part of their vocational course, then there needs to be a three-way agreement in place between the student, the education provider and the workplace.

This agreement should include the tasks that the intern will be undertaking, and how they correlate with their studies. This agreement needs to be signed by all parties before the internship begins.

If an individual undertakes an unpaid internship without this agreement in place, they may be able to sue the business for unpaid wages for the duration they worked.

Manage expectations upfront

Many small businesses may be reluctant to take on an intern in the event that the individual will not meet their expectations, or the process will be more of a risk than a reward.

We’ve heard businesses say countless times they want to take an intern on, but they just don’t have the time.

The best way to approach this is to treat the process of choosing an intern in the same fashion of hiring a new employee. Meet with them in person, understand their motives and what drives them and ask them what they’re hoping to achieve out of the internship.

This will signal early on whether the individual is motivated by university requirements and are only undertaking the internship because their course says so, or because they want to improve their skill set and further their careers.

Have a plan of attack before they start

Before the internship begins, there should be a training plan in place. This includes mapping out learning outcomes and daily, or weekly tasks.

We always recommend that businesses give an intern a project that has a start, middle and an end. This will not only keep them on track, but it will allow them to accomplish something before the internship concludes.

Some businesses will choose an internship placement provider, as these plans and processes are put together before the internship commences.

Treat them like a valued employee

Interns should be treated like any other valued employee.

This includes taking them to client meetings or taking them to client events even if they are not able to contribute. They will learn more through this experience than they ever will from a textbook.

The general internship is 12 weeks and can be either full time or part time. The experience and knowledge they will gain from spending time in a real working environment is invaluable in setting them up for the workforce.

By investing in them this way, you are communicating that you value their presence and view them as a valued team member. The most important thing is to have regular check-ins to ensure the student’s expectations are being met and vice versa.

At the end of the day, the graduates that are most employable are those that have done a work placement as part of their course. By giving a student work experience, even if it through an unpaid internship, you are investing in their career.

But the learning curve goes both ways; you might be surprised with what you take away from having an intern join your team.

Domenic Saporito is the Co-Founder of Outcome.Life, which specialises in empowering international students through independent advice and help, planning for life after study.

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