Why must small and medium businesses do all the heavy lifting for workplace experience?

Internship

We know that small businesses employ around 40% of Australia’s workforce, but they also play more than their fair share of taking on interns for work experience.

Most interns that I speak to are getting their work experience at a small business, usually a place with fewer than 10 employees.

With an increasing number of people going to university, and more courses offering a work experience component, there aren’t an increasing number of internship programs at large companies.

Some do offer summer programs, but these are rigid as they can only be held at a certain time of the year. Getting into these requires significant notice, which many students don’t have and it is incredibly competitive. Despite large companies offering graduate programs each year, some form of interning experience is still generally required to be accepted.

For most people seeking an internship, they look to small businesses and startups to fill the void left by larger companies.

There is nothing wrong with completing an internship at a startup or small business. But why are they having to carry the weight for the lack of internships offered by larger companies?

Too much bureaucracy

Larger businesses usually have the resources to take on more interns yet don’t do so. They are less likely to take on interns because of the bureaucracy involved in having new people in the workplace and are bound by ridiculous regulations that makes it seem impossible.

One reason for this is that they don’t believe in unpaid internships, in spite of it being legal, but also don’t want to be paying additional money for work to be done. They find it unproductive for existing team members to spend time showing interns processes and tasks when they may only be there for a temporary period.

There isn’t a risk for taking on interns. Companies think that they will get in trouble for having them do things but as long as it is part of their university or TAFE course, it is legal to have them join you at no cost.

As long as the hours and tasks interns are required to complete are reasonable, most don’t mind not being paid as they realise the longer-term benefits of an internship.

They aren’t supporting people’s future

Workplace experience is so important for the next generation to learn about what they are studying. It’s particularly useful for those that are still studying and want to confirm that they are making the right course decision to continue.

What they don’t realise is that interns are usually happy to stay on if offered permanent, ongoing work so the time spent teaching them during their internship period isn’t necessarily going to waste.

Most importantly, it’s necessary for their overall learning and small businesses are forced to pick up the slack of larger companies and take on more interns.

For international students, in particular, they face even more challenges trying to get an internship, where larger companies will almost never consider them.

How can this change?

Larger enterprises need to realise the importance of taking on interns, the benefits that it has for the personal and professional development of students.

A good start to change this is implementing internship programs that can run at various times of the year and of course, taking on a greater number of interns altogether.

Education providers and students rely on companies to open their doors and allow them to experience a real workplace in their field of study as well as implement their knowledge where appropriate.

For smaller businesses, I encourage them to continue to accept interns but join me in urging larger companies to play their part and share the load of helping others in their journey to complete their studies and find a job.


About the author

Gerard Holland is the co-founder of Outcome.Life and Outcome-Hub and specialises in empowering international graduates through independent advice and help. He and his co-founder Domenic Saporito spoke with Dynamic Business earlier this year. See: Stemming the brain drain: meet the duo behind the new start-up hub for international talent. In addition, Holland wrote Why start-ups and education providers should go hand-in-hand in Australia moving forward