"Stop telling me I am being exploited."

Mamamia intern: Tahlia Pritchard

Ah the great intern debate. The ‘benefits’ VS the ‘exploitation.’ The people who say they’d NEVER work for free VS the people who are so desperate to get a foot in the door, they’d do anything. The fans VS the haters. The positives VS the negatives.

It’s not uncommon these days for universities to encourage students to undertake an internship – some courses even make it a required subject. For many fields these days, a university degree is simply not enough. Many jobs in the media field, for example, will expect workers to already have one or two years experience in the chosen field. As the intern economy grows however, an important question seems to constantly be posed: when does an internship stop being mutually beneficial, and start becoming free labour?

I’ve been interning for two years now, for numerous companies in the fields of PR and journalism. Have I felt like I’ve gained invaluable experience? Yes. Have I felt like I’ve wasted my time at some places? Yes. Have I had thoughts where I thought studying media was a complete and utter waste of my time, and I should just invest in pole-dancing lessons and go by the name of ‘Candy Sparkles‘? … Yes.

By rough calculation since my time as an intern I have spent over $1200 in travel expenses alone. That doesn’t include buying lunches, coffees, running errands involving my car and petrol or buying appropriate ‘office’ clothes to wear. One internship I used to drive to, two days a week, due to lack of public transport.

In around four months, I blew over $900 on petrol, which included driving around running errands. Another internship, I commuted for 2 hours there, and 2 hours back – resulting in over $300 spend on train fares alone. Many days I’d wake up at 5.30 am, and return home at 7.30pm. It’s a long day for no pay, but sometimes you just have to go that extra mile.

I worked holidays to support myself through university, live 4.5 hours from my hometown and while I have enjoyed the benefits like youth allowance, I can assure you that will barely cover rent, food and travel costs.

I have a massive problem when people bag out generation lazy, self-entitled or not good with their money.

Needless to say, I have a MASSIVE problem when people bag out generation Y for being lazy, self-entitled or not good with their money.

I also have a massive problem when older people express distaste that so many people around my age bracket willingly work for free. On social media recently, I’ve seen many comments where people say that they’d ‘NEVER write for free, because their words and opinion are worth something.’


Totally understandable. I get it.

But let me assure you, as a 23-year-old graduate, with numerous published articles, I’m still not at the stage where I could demand for people to pay me for my words without it getting thrown back in my face.

It’s the sad, cold truth of an increasingly harder to crack into job market. The times they are a changing, and if you aren’t jumping on board interning, I bid you luck in your attempt to secure full-time employment.

I’m not saying all internships are worth it – there’s many places that may take advantage of interns, but there’s also many places who will provide as much as they can in the way of learning and building on imperative skills. It’s therefore the interns job to figure out when the relationship becomes less than mutually beneficial.

At a PR firm I interned for, after the four month mark where I was still not building on any necessary skills that would help me learn how to work in the sector, I upped and left. However there are the internships that will look after you, provide you will excellent contacts and give you exposure. You’ve got to wean out the good from the bad, the beneficial from the time-wasters. If there’s not prospect of paid employment after six months, then it’s probably time to get out and try your luck elsewhere.

“If there’s not prospect of paid employment after six months, then it’s probably time to get out and try your luck elsewhere.”

As discouraging as it may seem, if you leave on relatively good terms, there’s still a chance for employment in the future, and invaluable experience has been gained as well as excellent contacts made.

Working for free is hardly a new concept. Plot twist: I’ve been grateful every single time I’ve been offered an internship, because I want the chance to be able to build on my skills and prove myself. (Apart from one blogging scheme which required me to write an article on cockroaches in QLD, like I’d know anything about that, LATERS).

Would I love to be paid for what I do? Absolutely. And I know through building up experience and putting in the hard yards, one day I will be.

But to everyone saying all internships are exploitation, I ask of you: what’s your advice or solution for students or graduates trying to get a foot in the door?

Tahlia Pritchard is a freelance writer and social media addict. When she’s not writing copy for designer handbags she’ll never be able to afford, she’s working away at her blog BULLSH!T. You can follow her on twitter here for more inane ramblings.

So, where do you stand in the Great Intern Debate? Are they useful if young people are learning additional skills?