Internships: are they worth it?

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Feature image: Joshua Machuca interning as director

Sitting alone in a Deakin University classroom, Bachelor of Film and Television student Joshua Machuca attempts to paint a verbal picture of what his internship experience has been like. He is somewhat of an expert on the subject, having completed several throughout his university life.

The first internship, a television production project, “wasn’t as professional as a TV standard should be, especially given the second internship I did”, Machuca says.

However, he says that despite initial disorganisation, his first internship was a “blessing in disguise” because he was able to do pretty much anything he wanted.

“It was the sense that the client didn’t know what to do. And so I had a chance to literally create my own show, just do it how I thought was best, which was good because it helped me learn, definitely,” Machuca says.

He is not alone in seeing the opportunity for learning and growth in completing internships. In 2015, Interns Australia conducted a survey that found 90.66 per cent of 503 respondents across Australia had completed at least a single internship.

Deakin’s Work Integrated Learning representative Aastha Shrestha says more than 600 Deakin students interned in 2018. She’s optimistic the team will place even more students in internships this year.  

Many employers are requiring hopeful employees to have a certain level of experience to be considered for roles, and so completing internships is necessary.

An increasing number of university degrees are also encouraging students to gain this experience as part of their course.

Image: Maddie West, interning at National Australia Bank

Maddie West is completing a full time, paid internship that is compulsory for her degree at RMIT University. West says she is well aware of what her employers expect of her.

“They don’t really care so much about your qualifications. If you’ve got a bachelor’s degree, it’s just kind of a tick,” West says.

“A lot of roles, even when you’re applying for graduate positions, are requiring you to have a lot of experience. Most people don’t have that because they’ve just been studying the whole time.”

Organisations are aware of this expectation and tailor advertisements to attract more hopeful interns to their opportunities.

ABC News conducted research on the most commonly used phrases for what employers offering internships want, compared with what they are offering.

Image courtesy of ABC News: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-03/what-job-ads-reveal-about-the-rising-internship-culture/9713918
Image courtesy of ABC News: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-03/what-job-ads-reveal-about-the-rising-internship-culture/9713918

While what employers want and offer may be clear to optimistic applicants, at times the internship experience may provide more insight in to what not to pursue in a career.

Machuca says that he’s glad he took the opportunity to participate in a live stream sports internship as a director. It showed him a side of production – live to air – that he would prefer to avoid.

“It was an incredible experience. In fact, it was such a good experience that it gave me an ultimatum, an ultimate decision on what I want to do with my career, and the direction I want to follow,” he says.

This clarity in career direction is what a lot of students are now craving.

Deakin’s Shrestha says all those involved in getting students real world experience understand the importance of internships, whatever the outcome.

“It can be a good experience, but at the same time, if it’s a bad one, that’s good because it’s a learning experience nonetheless,” says Shrestha.

“So either way, you’re going to have an outcome that will affect you greatly once you have graduated; you’ll know what it is you want to do.”

West says that after completing the first two years of her studies, she doubted her desire to finish. “I was sick of studying I guess, [but the internship] made me realise that I’m not wasting my time,” West says.

“If it doesn’t [confirm] what you’re passionate about then it might help you realise what you would prefer to be doing,” she says.

The ABC report says a driving force behind internship popularity is universities, because of the pressure on them to produce graduates ready for the workforce.

Shrestha says internships can help students impress prospective employers, being “something that other students might not have”. 

“You’ve already gone out there, you’ve built your communication skills and you’ve been selected to be an intern. That gives you an edge,” Shrestha says.

For international students, the idea of completing internships may seem daunting. However, Shrestha encourages students from all backgrounds to aim to complete one as part of their degree.

“An internship will expose you to the working culture in Australia. You might be able to learn a lot of lingo of the world you’re going in to, that might be used in the workplace,” she says.

“So just getting exposed to that, knowing that if you’re networking with someone, that you use that sort of common terminology means they would know you’ve worked in that area. They would think about you in a more competitive way, in a good light.”

Fairwork says that internships can help a student transition from study to work, as well as give industry the opportunity to develop the student’s learning and increase the number of graduates ready to enter the workforce.

Anneliese Farrer says a live streaming internship with Fox Sports during the 2018/19 Women’s National Basketball League season gave her the competitive edge to get paid work in the industry covering the tennis in January.  

“I worked at the Australian Open every day except the last. I made $3,000 just from that, and was working 10 hours every day,” Farrer says.

“Through that job I’ve made all these connections…I wouldn’t have had that job if I didn’t do the Fox Sports internship.”

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