Marnie Shanahan – Founder & Director
In 2013, I juggled an Honours degree, four unpaid internships and two casual jobs. The surprising part? This scenario isn’t surprising or unique in the slightest way.
My experience at each of these internships varied immensely, from exploitative to invaluable. At one organisation, I was clearly an employee without the benefits or payment. I was among a number of other unpaid interns who were also being exploited by producing and performing productive work for the company. I gained no industry experience or insight, no new skills or contacts, and I was given an off-putting introduction to the industry that resulted in bitter resentment.
The internship ended and I quietly left without saying a word. I didn’t seek assistance or advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). I didn’t know that the role I had just undertaken was illegal, I didn’t know I had any rights and I didn’t think I could stand up to these industry giants. Above all, I didn’t want to burn any bridges in the field I was so desperately trying to gain access to.
After completing a four-year University degree and four internships (not to mention the experience I had accumulated through many casual jobs since I began working when I was 13), I felt capable, confident, and was excited and ready to find a full-time job. However, I was then faced with a different issue surrounding internships – they had replaced entry-level jobs. The advertisements I came across on job boards were either for unpaid internships, or mid to senior level positions that I could not possibly yet qualify or compete for.
I was determined to help others who were in my position or who faced the same unavoidable issue.
While I advocate trying to get a foot in the door, it’s time we put our foot down too. While many businesses are providing legitimate, legal, and valuable unpaid internship experiences, the reality is that too many are abusing the system and taking advantage of eager young people by using them as a cheap substitute for paid employees. We need to take a stand against exploitation and counteract this growing trend by taking action. Raising awareness is helping, but not solving the issue. The window for young people undertaking internships is short and by the time they are aware of their lawful rights, it’s too late – the damage has been done. In the words of a famous fellow creative: a little less conversation, a little more action please.
There needs to be an internship intervention. Conditions need to be imposed to counteract the growing trend of illegal, unpaid internships in Australia – that’s where The New Kid comes in, and it’s a company that I’m proud to put my name to.