By MIA FREEDMAN
UPDATED: July 9th 2013
Earlier this year, the Fair Work Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, announced that he will be seeking a harsher crackdown on internships and unpaid work experience in Australia.
I have no problem with this.
The idea of exploiting vulnerable people – for example, telling someone they need to do an indefinite unpaid ‘trial’ lasting months before they can be considered for a job or coercing someone to work for free by promising them future employment – is troubling and unethical.
Equally troubling, however, is the idea that all internships or work experience placements are exploitative.
That’s plainly absurd.
Of course I’m going to say that. It’s well known that I started my career doing work experience at Cleo in 1992. Lisa Wilkinson was my first boss and I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
I initially assisted the features editor for two weeks and at the end of that fixed period, I begged Lisa to allow me to continue to come in one day per week so I could continue to gain experience on one of Australia’s top magazines. Today, this would be called an internship.
As a journalism student in my first year of university, this opportunity was extraordinary and I relished every moment of every day. I did a variety of interesting and menial tasks, from filing and fetching coffee, running errands for the fashion department, answering the phones when the receptionist was at lunch and doing research for the writers. I got to see up close how a magazine worked. From the inside. Invaluable.
I interned at Cleo for a few months and early on, I began to come in extra days without asking, hoping I wouldn’t be sent home. No promises were ever made to me during this time. No carrots were dangled. Obviously, I wanted nothing more than to work full-time at Cleo and so I tried to make myself as valuable as possible by helping out as much as I could. More significant though, was what they gave me, a kid who knew nothing. Much kindness, patience and guidance was shown to me by Lisa, the then deputy editor Deborah Thomas and everyone in the features department.
People took the time to include me in meetings. They took to time to explain things to me – what they were doing and why they were doing it, how magazines worked and some aspects of journalism that I could never have learned from a textbook or a lecturer.
I gave them my time, sure, but they gave me theirs in return. And let’s be honest here, the time of media professionals was worth far far more than that of a green uni student.