The real value of internships

There’s been much discussion of late around the non-payment of PR interns in Australia, and whether or not those who engage interns are doing so for ‘free labour’ and not much else.

Sadly in some (rare) cases, the benefit the employer gains by far outweighs that of the intern. This defeats the object of work experience which, as the name implies, is intended to provide someone with valuable experience in their field of interest.

In order for both parties to reap the benefits of a PR internship it’s important that PR managers nurture their interns just as they would a paid employee. After all, we will soon be relying on this new generation of creative talent to take the helm and drive PR forward in Australia.

However, it is equally important that the intern behaves as a paid employee – the role playing works both ways. If an intern rocks up late on the first day, dressed shabbily and looking like they came straight from the University bar, they cannot expect to be treated as a real member of the working team.

Some may argue that as unpaid workers, an intern has no obligation to turn up on time or dress smartly. And that’s fine if the intern isn’t that bothered about getting a job at the end of it or indeed, a glowing reference.

However, the majority of interns are genuinely committed to getting hands-on experience and seeing what life is like in the legendary ‘agency world’.

The point of internships is, and always has been, to learn the ropes through on-the-ground experience. Everyone at Ignite from the MD down kick-started their career by interning which is why we fully recognise the value of work placements for those trying to break into PR.

I myself interned for several months in London when I graduated from university and received no payment – rather, I earned my stripes as an eager, ambitious potential junior account executive and landed a job in less than half the time of those who relied solely upon academic qualifications.

PR is about communicating, and communicating well. That can’t be learned through tutorials or lectures, which is why PR students are encouraged to enter into professional environments to see how it works in the real world.

If both the intern and employer enter into the relationship whole-heartedly with a clear development plan and list of desired outcomes from each side, the rewards offered by an unpaid internship can be far more enriching than any monetary reimbursement.

Kate Ward, Account Director