Should Information Technology Internships be Paid?

IT internship

Recruiting people for information technology internships can provide a range of benefits to a business or organisation. Improved productivity, new ideas and perspectives, greater public outreach and potential new employees are just some of the perks of hiring trainees.

Placements typically involve providing job-seekers with work experience and training. This allows them to get a taste of what the role or industry is like, network and gain industry contacts, and gain a good reference for their résumé.

Before you start recruiting, however, it’s crucial to consider the moral, ethical and legal dilemmas associated with whether or not you should pay your trainees.

You may be hesitant to pay for information technology internships due to being on a tight budget or after comparing yourself to other companies who don’t pay their trainees. And with many people begging to work for free in exchange for training and experience, you may believe payment is unnecessary.

However, not paying your trainees could end up costing you in the long-run due to legal issues. It also puts students who are not financially well-off at a disadvantage. Here are some of the major things to consider when deciding whether or not to pay your trainees a salary:


Legal implications

The legal rules associated with not paying trainees are hazy; however businesses do run the risk of breaking the law if they do not pay their trainees. Australian regulations around information technology internships are not formally defined, however the Fair Work Ombudsman considers a trainee to be an employee (with a right to be paid for their work) if they are not simply learning and observing but are undertaking tasks that assist with business productivity and outputs.

Various businesses have been taken to court by the Ombudsman based on this view, with many businesses guilty of underpaying their trainees being fined thousands of dollars. The International Labour Organisation has cautioned that information technology internships may be a masked kind of employment which don’t offer the on-the-job training as required but expect trainees to perform unpaid labour. This may also increase unemployment rates as it displaces full-time workers and prevents people from accessing the paid work they are entitled to.


Social impacts

Unpaid information technology internships can damage social mobility as they exclude people who can’t afford to participate in them. People who miss out are typically those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who need paid work (often whilst studying full-time) in order to support themselves financially. Most people who get recruited are from higher socioeconomic backgrounds who can afford to participate, as their parents are able to financially support them. This keeps poor people poor and rich people rich.


Paid trainees are better for your company

Paid trainees are happy trainees. This means that they are more excited about coming to work and contributing. They’ll also have more time to work with you, as they aren’t limited to the few hours they have in between work and study each week. They are also more likely to have a positive opinion of your company, and may serve as “brand ambassadors”, telling their friends and family about your business (thus helping you out with recruitment costs!).


What you’re offering

If you can’t pay, you should at least offer trainees a high-quality training program. Give some thought as to the specific experiences and skills you can provide; getting them to go for coffee runs won’t cut it (and could get you into legal trouble). Information technology internships should be mentoring experiences in which the trainee is made better prepared for work in the real world.