Internships: Half-truths and political smoke screens

Matthew Lesh, a Research Fellow in the Future of Freedom Program at the Institute of Public Affairs wrote an article in the Huffington Post entitled Internships Are Not Exploitation, They’re An Opportunity.  In it he wrote:

“Internships give young people a better understanding of the workplace, as well as the opportunity to complete real work tasks, and learn directly from those who could be their future colleagues. It is only through this experience that they can get well-paid jobs. This is why internships have provided countless Australians their first start”


 University graduate and beneficiary of an intern scheme, Matthew Lesh

 What he says is true, these are the benefits of internship. But there are downsides he does not mention. One of these is that the internship may be washing dishes in a grubby third rate cafe or being forced to work in unacceptable conditions in the hope of later getting a job later.  Both experiences  may not necessarily greatly enhance the jobseekers prospects of employment except at more jobs washing dishes.

Internships are not likely to be all light and happiness. They will also not likely to be all bad but there is a very good chance that they will be a mixed blessing for many. For those lucky enough to score an internship, such as working as an associate of Supreme Court judge, the internship will likely be the first step on away to a spectacularly successful career. But you have to be exceptionally well-connected to get internships like this.

Lesh who graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts (Degree with Honours), in Politics and International Studies justifies the internship system with his own experience:  “Five years ago, I undertook workplace experience at the organisation where I now work. My labour, at the time, was not worth a full salary. Instead, I was given an exceptional opportunity to learn about public policy that substantially helped my personal development”

And this is where the problem lies, Lesh wasn’t washing dishes, he was learning about public policy.

Many of the current government policies have extremely beneficial effects, like those that Lesh experienced. There is no doubt that negative gearing is extremely beneficial mechanism for those who utilise it.

But not everybody can.

And so when the  “haves” start justifying policies because they have benefited personally from that policy, we need to have a counterbalancing story from a “have-not” that states a contrary case.


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