Why internships are good for employers too
Many young people in Australia find themselves in a bind when it comes to securing their first job – they can’t get a job because they don’t have the required experience, yet they can’t get the experience because they don’t have a job. With youth unemployment in the spotlight from last week's Federal Budget, SEEK Insights & Resources looks at the role paid internships play in this predicament.

Not only do internships give the young job seeker a taste for the world of work and a chance to use and develop their skills, they also provide valuable experience that they can put on their CVs and use to help secure a permanent role.

Employers who host paid internships are also finding that interns bring benefits to the organisation itself, such as better recruitment, development of their own staff and the introduction of fresh, new perspectives.

Youth unemployment is usually measured by the proportion of 15 to 24-year olds not in employment, education or training, or NEET. The unemployment rate for the Australian population as a whole is a low 5.7%, but youth unemployment is much higher. In 2014, about 10% of 15 to 24-year olds were not in employment, education or training, according to an analysis of labour market statistics by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. This rate is unchanged from a decade earlier.

The problem is more acute for youth aged 20 to 24, who have a NEET rating of 13% according to the report 'Australia’s Welfare 2015’.

Professional services firm PwC has one of Australia’s largest internship programs, taking 350 paid interns each summer for four to eight weeks. The university student interns work in PwC teams in areas such as client engagement, and corporate and social responsibility, and are also given the opportunity of skills development, says Deb Eckersley, Managing Partner Human Capital at PwC.

The benefits to the interns are clear: a better understanding of working in a professional services environment, skills development, an impressive entry on their CV and potentially a job at PwC at the end of it.

But hosting interns also brings benefits for PwC.

Eckersley says it is a good way of recruiting top university graduates. In fact, most of the interns receive an offer to join the firm after graduation.

“We think it’s great and potentially the best opportunity for us to identify and source talent, and for us to get to know them over an extended period,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity for us to know more about them and how they work, and how their work aligns with our values and our organisation.”

Interns are more successful hires

Eckersley says PwC’s success rate is higher with hires who have been interns at the firm than with direct hires straight out of university. They generally perform better and stay longer.

Taking on interns also allows the firm to try people who are a little different to those who PwC would take on if they were making a permanent hire.

“You can take the risk, because if it works it’s fabulous, the payoff’s great. If it doesn’t work for either party then we’ve all still had a good experience together but then we all move on and do different things,” says Eckersley.

Recruitment company Randstad has stepped in to help put youth into paid internships, with a competition to let young people show off their unique and hidden talents in short videos. The winners will receive an internship with one of Australia’s top employers, including SEEK.

Tim Sternberg, Marketing and Communications Director at Randstad, says the competition is a great way to showcase the unique talent of Australian youth to employers, particularly at a time when employers are seeking the skills of the future, such as innovation and creativity.

Sternberg says interns can bring a fresh perspective to an organisation. In fact, Randstad is hosting two interns in its marketing team who have brought new ideas about solving problems. “With young eyes, they’ve really helped us to see different viewpoints and we’re actually now looking at creating a young executive board to help challenge our thinking,” he says.

Sternberg says the key to a good internship is having a good mentor within the business, which also provides a good development opportunity for the mentor. Also, the work the interns should do should go beyond administrative tasks. They should be involved in brainstorming sessions and given the opportunity to work on projects. Sternberg says that the results will quite often be surprising.

Khan Churchill, a Melbourne youth worker who works with unemployed young people, has seen the impact of youth unemployment – and has also witnessed how transformative a job can be for a young unemployed person.

“It couldn’t be a more marked change in terms of their confidence, in terms of their outlook on the world, their sense of self and their self-esteem,” he says. “Being given an opportunity, even in an entry level position, you just see people coming along in leaps and bounds.”

Is your intern working illegally? Harmers Workplace Lawyers offers some tips for how to make sure you're on the right side of the law when it comes to accepting internships.