Working for free, young Australians don't seem to mind if it's for experience

File image of Sydney street, Nov. 1, 2016. Source: AAP

More than half of young adults have taken part in unpaid work experience, research conducted by three Australian universities indicates.

New research, undertaken by the Queensland University of Technology, the University of Technology, Sydney, and the University of Adelaide, shows around 58 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 have taken part in at least one instance of unpaid work experience in the past five years.

Professor Andrew Stewart of the University of Adelaide’s Law School, told SBS News the more prevalent work experience becomes, the more important it is to ensure interns’ rights are upheld.

“For example, if you’re doing an internship as part of formal education or training program, it has to deliver quality outcomes,” he said.

“Where you have work experience outside formal education and training programs, there’s a question about potential illegality.”

The recent survey, released in December 2016, did not reveal whether work experience helped young people get jobs.

“We can’t see that there’s a definite link between doing work experience and getting work,” Professor Stewart said.

Despite this, the study shows that respondents reported very high levels of satisfaction with their unpaid work experience, especially when undertaken through a university or vocational education and training provider.

Most said they believed their most recent placement would help them to find employment, improve their networks, determine if a field of work was right for them, and develop their understanding of career opportunities in that field. 

While no direct link between work experience and paid employment was found, one quarter of survey respondents said they were offered paid work by their host organisation.

In 2013 report, Dr Stewart co-authored research for the Fair Work Ombudsman that found a significant number of interns should have been paid for their work.

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