PRIA launches intern guidelines

New guidelines for managing internships have been published to address issues identified in a national RCG survey late last year. This showed that more information on intern programs is required in the following three key areas:

1/ payment and Fair Work Act requirements

2/ academic expectations, and

3/ intern management processes.

1/ When payment is required

The Fair Work Act is very clear that students do not need to be paid if they are enrolled in an academic subject that requires them to complete formal work experience or a vocational placement. However, if students are not enrolled in such a subject and the student does more than a few days of observation in the consultancy, then they should be paid for their efforts.

Some academic institutions specifically ban payment during the internship, others allow payment during the period. But once the formal internship period has been completed, the student may be considered an employee if they continue working in the consultancy and there are clear minimum wage rates which apply.

Students are keen to obtain experience and often volunteer to work for free. Consultancies have to reject these kind offers – unless the student is enrolled in a subject requiring professional work placement.

The majority of interns are studying courses that are formally accredited by the PRIA.  These courses must contain internships or practical work placements. However, there are intern students from other degree programs such as business, arts or even law which may have subjects that require work placements. In that situation the student and host organisation must ensure that they are meeting Fair Work Australia requirements.

If there are any queries, the RCG recommends member consultancy executives contact the RCG employment advisory service, the Fair Work Ombudsman, or an employee law advisor.

Remember – unless an intern is ENROLLED in a SUBJECT that REQUIRES work placement, they must generally be paid for ongoing work. There is a minimum wage for all employees in Australia, and this hourly rate should have a loading on it for casual engagement. .  This is currently $15.96 per hour for employees.  For casuals an additional loading of 23% can be applied which means as at 1 July 2012 the total hourly rate for a casual over 21 years old was $19.63 per hour.


2/ Academic expectations

The National Education Advisory Committee of the PRIA provided extensive information for the guidebook about the consistent requirements from academic institutions.  For instance:

There should be an agreement between the student and the host consultancy about learning outcomes
The host organisation should appoint a supervisor and conduct formal induction and then ongoing review discussions
The consultancy should also be asked to fill in a report or evaluation
Each academic institution has an internship coordinator who should be available for questions from consultancies and to support the student

3/ Best practice policies and processes

Processes for interns should also include insurance, confidentiality agreements, intellectual property, OH&S requirements. All interns should be signed up to the same company policies and requirements as normal employees.

“The research that has formed the basis of the guidelines and the collaboration with our vibrant academic community has taken over six months.  We hope that consultancies can now offer internships with total confidence, no matter what academic program the student is studying,” Ms Warren said.

The guide has been developed for PRIA RCGs and is available at The PRIA website also hosts information for interns and a page for internship opportunities, which members and students can access free of charge.


Summary: PRIA RCG consultancy survey September 2012

Thirty consultancies across Australia responded to an online survey about internship and work experience programs in their office.  The survey was open during September 2012 to all RCG members, which constitute the most comprehensive and diverse representation of communication consultancies in Australia.

Just over half of respondents were from NSW, with Queensland and Victoria both contributing 15% each. Multiple consultancies from WA, SA and Victoria also participated.  40% of consultancies participating were small (1-5 staff), 27% mid-size and 33% large or multinationals.

High School Work Experience Students

70% of consultancies did not host high school work experience students in their office last year.  15% had only one high school student and 15% had between 2-5 high school work experience students. Of those one third that hosted high school work experience students, 90% had them in the office for 2-5 days and only 10% had them for 2 weeks. 

Work Experience students from tertiary institutions

80% of consultancies did not host tertiary work experience students to just observe in the office. The small number who did host work experience students offered only short time periods, generally only one or two weeks.

Tertiary interns being hosted by consultancies

80% of consultancies in the survey hosted tertiary interns.  60% of all consultancies surveyed hosted multiple interns with more than 15% of consultancies surveyed hosting more than 6 interns each during the previous year.  

In nearly 90% of cases, interns were in their final year of study.  72% of consultancies offered long term employment to some of their work experience or intern students.  Nearly all interns were hosted for more than a week.  In nearly half of all cases, each student was hosted for more than a month.

Consultancies were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, enthusiasm and enthusiasm of interns.  There were glowing reports using words such as: eagerness, willingness, commitment, and professionalism.

Consultancies also hoped that academic institutions would develop better writing skills, project management, better understanding of media structures and story pitching processes, basic office computer skills such as word documents layouts and excel spreadsheets, oh, and did anyone mention writing?

Members can download the guide here

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