Dear Millennials: Do we have rights as an ‘intern’ or ‘volunteer?’

G’day and Chao (hello in Vietnamese),

If I hear my parents talk about ‘work’ (direct translation in Vietnamese – di lam) again, I will get very frustrated.


It didn’t dawn on me that the topic of ‘work/employment’ is every-changing but also stubborn in my opinion. Hmm, I’m not sure if it is the way society is run, or the rules of the state or federal government but us millennials (I am speaking on many of them on behalf) have found the ‘post-stage’ of graduating tough.


I have finished now and feel for those in those institutions – Gen. Y’s with questions about whether the education is really needed… whether they need to study further or study something else….


For me, I think the right to get rid of the HECS-HELP loan was a good idea – for us to treat education importantly. Okay, so it was a loan… my mum paid a portion to help lessen the debt. I didn’t feel the burden of paying off the debt. I am still on Centrelink and money was not something I wanted to talk about or deal with at that time (or ever). I don’t know if Gen.Ys’ have thought about their ‘career’ and ‘work’ prospects and goals during study. I will admit that I didn’t. I felt narrow-minded and closed – not robotic but asleep. I didn’t have a plan and no backup plan (but this is a story for another time – university should be an option not a necessity). A worst case story for my family and friends would be that I paid thousands to study four years, to walk away with a certificate and not get an architecture-related job.


Sighh, what was work like in the early 2000s? Early 90s? What did you have to endure?


Let’s skip a couple of months after March of my graduation ceremony… to my current status – ‘working’ at my local council.


1. My parents were quite pleased (I hope) I work at the council (I don’t hear much around my area of people working there).


2. When I told my mum & dad I was ‘volunteering’ with the council, the only ‘comfort’ I gave them was the possibility I could get a paid job after working with them.


3. A friend I caught up with congratulated me on my job but I experienced confusion when he asked about what kind of job it was, whether it was an internship or work placement… whether it was related to architecture… was there something I don’t know about work?


4. My cousin in Sydney(I would call her my mentor), was excited for me that I have finally took a step into work world. Note – she has been persistent with pushing me on finding opportunities, applying for graduate programs and cold calling to ask for internships …. (but I did not follow them). Similarly, she enquired about my work offer. She asked if I was paid… whether I was compensated for my travel costs… She expressed her concern that I should be paid doing intern work…


What is going on?


I searched up intern/volunteer/paid work on Google and found a plethora of readings. Time to turn on my ‘left-brain’ on:




There were a heap of links of headings with terms like ‘slavery,’ ‘illegal,’ ‘unfair…’ etc.


The guidelines written by FairWork Australia provided some good points to consider a ‘fair’ internship. The main argument presented was about the notion of an employment relationship between ‘intern/worker’ and organisation – i.e should be paid. I roughly paraphrased their words to my understanding to make it easier:


1. purpose


If the person is doing more of the organisation’s work(‘productive work’) on top of observing, learning and skill development, an employment relationship may arise…
2. duration


The longer the contract, more likely worker becomes a worker/employee…
3. significance of organisation


If work is done similar to other employees, likely person becoming part of employees?
Note – In my experience, the activities/work I did were part of general ‘sustainability’ which I was interested when contacting them in beginning.


4. who’s benefitting?


If the organisation is benefitting, likely worker is part of organisation & part of relationship…
Note – this for me is a bit silly. If you work/volunteer for someone or a company – doesn’t both parties benefit?
My experience:


Okay let’s be clear. I wanted do volunteer and help contribute to the work they do with the community (environmental programs/events).


I emailed the council after attending an environmental event and pictured myself helping them temporarily with one-off events like giving a tour on sustainable housing.


Hmm, I was surprised that I got a call by the sustainability coordinator telling me she was unclear about what tasks I wanted to help with… I was oblivious about my lack of communication and INTENT during that time.


Hmm, all I wanted was to help with the council – to meet other sustainability-minded people, help run/facilitate environmental programs to see whether I could work for the council.



– Maybe the head coordinator thought I was seeking unpaid ‘work’ when I said I wanted to volunteer as I was a recent graduate (I didn’t picture actually working in their office!)
– They were also happy to have me onboard with being a ‘volunteer’ because maybe I was seen as an ‘observer’ more than a worker? I approached them with a cold call, they didn’t advertise this position. There was no formal application or recruiting process – I only turned up to a short meeting with the coordinator and some of her team mates with a short induction process.
^ Is this right?


I feel the right to use an ‘intern’ instead of a ‘volunteer…’


In the job description the coordinator wrote on the day of my induction process (note – formal legal contract document), she wrote my position as an ‘intern’ SLASH ‘volunteer.’ Does this person think these terms are the same? Personally, I deem intern as a more worthy term who works hard to contribute work for the organisation whilst also learning about its work culture/environment.


I am pleased they shortened my work arrangement to 3 months instead of 6 months. I can make the decision soon to tell them I would like to work hear part time and be paid (I’m hoping this is guaranteed).




In the first week, I realised the employees give me the tasks that are small but tedious and arduous – I do them to free up time for them to focus on bigger tasks.


Hmm, but its not directly aligned to my skills I want to develop and learn in relation to my architectural studies. Should I speak up and ask when I shall start on this kind of work soon?!


What I would like…


To be treated more with VALUE – compliments are great for starters. Compensated for public transport would be good to but I only come in for two days so that’s alright. I would of liked to have a pass and my own desk instead of borrowing other workers but that’s okay too.


The main problem beginning to rise is that the work I should do should be more relevant to my GOALS (is that selfish?)…
Doubting questions:


What’s the difference between ‘work experience’ and ‘interning?’


And is ‘interning’ the same as ‘volunteering?’


Has ‘internship’ become a buzzword? Are recruiters using this term to make it look more appealing to graduates?


Notes for graduates!


This is what you need to think and talk about in the beginning of the agreement/interview:


“Manage expectations by clarifying whether the internship is paid/unpaid from the beginning of the relationship. Include whether the position is paid or unpaid in the job posting and written job description.”


“Speak to your manager about whether there is a job available; never let your employer string you along with vague promises of paid work in the future… Say you understand and that you’ve loved working there, but you feel it’s time to move on to somewhere that can offer a real chance of a paid job. Choose a date and tell them that’s when you’re leaving. Then apply for every job under the sun, so you have something lined up (even if it’s another internship).
If they counter-offer with paid work before you go, you’ll have two options. If they don’t, they never had any intention of hiring you, so you’ve lost nothing. Interns often make the mistake of hanging around too long – three months should be your maximum stay in one place. Any longer and they’ll think you don’t value your own work.”


How do i spot a good internship?


“Good quality internships will be advertised publicly and candidates will be required to interview. You should have a designated manager, a variety of tasks – and the placement should be structured to give you a proper taste of the workplace. They should also give you feedback and a reference at the end. If you’re sorting the post and nobody knows your name, get out of there. It’s a bad internship and a waste of your time.” – UNDERSTAND YOUR RIGHTS


The internship program is structured on the intern’s objectives and what they’d like to achieve out of the program.  An internship is the missing link between academic studies and work experience.  A professional internship program is unpaid as the main aim is for the intern to achieve their objectives.
I’ve learnt that we need to maintain our own limitations and have defined goals, not just companies and organisations.
What do you think?
Do you have an intern experience you like to share that was fair or unfair?
Signing off now. Working later this week…
References & for your further perusal: