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News Analysis 25 May 2021 - 4 min read

We’re ‘not policing’ internship standards, but if it’s illegal you’ll know: NeverNotCreative on the rising risk of graduate exploitation

By Sam Buckingham-Jones and Josh McDonnell

Special Group's Matt Bladin: "What might look like that greatest period of opportunity for grads in recent memory is sadly also the greatest period of risk."

Agencies are signing up to NeverNotCreative’s new Internship Minimum Standards, but the organisation’s creator insists he’s not looking to name and shame bad players. Instead, the industry should shine a light on best practice.  

What you need to know:

  • NeverNotCreative says 50 agencies and six individuals have signed their Internship Minimum Standards.
  • Andy Wright says the organisation is not looking to police the standards but will let agencies know when they’re not up to standard.
  • Other young leaders are concerned about a year of grads that have been unable to secure internships and network, and who are potentially at risk of exploitation.

What might look like that greatest period of opportunity for grads in recent memory is sadly also the greatest period of risk.

Matt Bladin, Special Group Australia's Art Director

A key industry body for the creative sector says 50 agencies have so far signed their pledge to provide minimum standards – including a base rate of pay – for interns.

Andy Wright, the creator of NeverNotCreative, insists the group is not “policing” the industry or naming and shaming bad agencies, but rather want to shine a light on best practice.

“This isn’t stick, it’s carrot,” he says.

“We’re passionate volunteers, so we’re not policing. What we’re trying to do is set the standard that other people can see. It increases awareness and gives people the confidence to say, ‘hey, I don’t think that internship you’re running is fair’.”

Agencies like Hoyne, Portable, Love + Money, Edison, BHD and The Brand Foundry have signed the Minimum Standards, which include:

  • Programs that run for at least 20 days but no more than 72 days.
  • Providing interns with a buddy or mentor to manage the experience.
  • Setting goals and reviewing achievements at the end.
  • Paying interns up to $24.77/hr or $185.78/day plus 9.5 per cent superannuation, and no less than the Award rate of $20.88/hr.

“They literally are the bare minimum in terms of what you should do,” Wright says.

“We hear stories all the time. This is about the community and the industry policing itself and helping to get better internships up. It creates such elitism – it actually sticks up a barrier for people who can't afford to work for free and for an industry that would really benefit from a lot of diversity and people from different backgrounds.

“Policing is the wrong word. It’s people looking out for each other.”

Talent shortage but grad oversupply

While many industry jobs quickly pivoted to working from home last year as lockdowns struck, internships were more difficult to make virtual. Wright says he’s not aware of any agencies that successfully managed a virtual internship in Australia.

Matt Bladin is Special Group Australia’s Art Director and national chair of Youngbloods. He says when agencies tighten their belts, interns are the first to go.

“Especially paid ones,” he says.

“The repeating waves of redundancies obviously left little room for new junior hires. And this hiring freeze across the industry left an entire year of graduates out in the cold.”

But as spend and consumer confidence returned, Bladin says, so too did the demand for work, and agencies have been scrambling to hire again. This past year has meant, however, that the personal, human connections – the “grabbing a coffee” conversations – that once fuelled internship opportunities, have been lacking.

“What might look like that greatest period of opportunity for grads in recent memory is sadly also the greatest period of risk,” Bladin says.

“It’s true agencies are rushing to fill the vacuum left by the pandemic. But the fact that an entire year of graduates was left (mostly) un-hired also means there’s a staggering oversupply of eager talent.”

An oversupply of young talent, he says, as well as cost pressures, mean more instances of exploitation.

“Tell-all forums like Fishbowl are now an essential when scouting-out potential workplaces,” he says.

“If you treat your interns well, it gets talked about here, and as a business you’ll earn a reputation that’ll attract the best talent.”

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Sam Buckingham-Jones and Josh McDonnell

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