Are you looking for a job? How does this one sound?

You'll work from home one day a week for an internet dating company to "create new, engaging social media content and coordinate social media campaigns and liaise with partners".

It's probably worth mentioning you won't get paid for your work – and you'll have to use your own laptop and internet.

Not very appealing? How about this one?

Advertisement

You will work for two or three days a week at a design agency, helping to make presentations for some of Australia's biggest companies. This one is also unpaid, but the agency says it's "outrageously well connected" to other agencies and will give you "all the coffee your body can handle".

Welcome to the work of job hunting for university graduates. You work for free on the basis of a vague assurance of possible fulltime work at the end of the internship or the opportunity to bolster your resume well enough to get paid work.

What's worse is that sometimes job hunters have to pay for the "opportunity" of working for free, and potentially developing caffeine-induced psychosis.

In Australia an internship industry has sprung up, where graduates are charged a fee for an internship placement. Of course, it's not portrayed that way.

A $990 fee might be called an administration fee. Other graduates or students are paying as much as $2000 to internship brokers for a place at a company.

Employers argue graduates aren't job ready and so shouldn't be paid until they have enough experience to make a worthwhile contribution.

But it's always been this way. No matter how stellar and vocational someone's university degree, they have always had on-the-job learning to do before they were up to speed. In the past, employers were prepared to take on graduates and train them, either informally on the job and sometimes in formal year-long graduate development programmes or the like.

Some large companies still do this, but usually on a smaller scale, and many others have scrapped their graduate programmes altogether.

Advertisement

Many employers, it seems, don't see the value in investing in young staff. Nor do they see this as a way to give back to the community in which their business grows and thrives.

It reflects the changing dynamics of the employment market. Instead of having a job for life, employment is much less stable, so there is little point for companies in devoting resources to training someone who might not be there in a year or two – either because they've moved on or because the company no longer needs them.

As employment shifts more to the gig economy model – where workers are employed on a temporary basis to do specific projects – companies see little value in investing in staff.

All of this leaves young graduates with the old dilemma – they can't get a job because they don't have any experience and they can't get any experience because they don't have a job.

The worst offenders are the "glamour" industries of marketing, advertising, public relations and design, along with some small accountancy firms.

It would probably be okay if the hapless jobseekers were being taken under the wing and given some real training. A bit of work is probably a fair exchange for a genuine learning opportunity and some mentoring from a senior industry figure. (In fairness, some large companies still offer paid internships.)

But many interns are being thrown work or parts of projects that clients will be paying for and there is little doubt that some companies are essentially using interns as free labour.

This is broadly what employment law states – if people are doing "real" work then they should be paid. The reality, however, is quite different. Graduates, desperate for a job, don't want to rock the boat by making a complaint to the workplace regulator. Instead, they keep their heads down and work diligently, in the hope that they could eventually get a job, even if it means they are being exploited.

WHO'S YOUR DADDY?

There's another issue at play here too.

Not everyone can afford to work for free, particularly for weeks or months at a time. Those people who need to earn a wage to pay rent and buy food probably won't have the time or means to undertake internships. They must sometimes wonder if they will be trapped forever in their dead-end jobs.

The lucky ones who live with their parents or receive a bit of financial help will be able to afford to undertake a series of internships, with a much better chance of eventually achieving paid work and career advancement in their chosen field.

It is another way that who your parents are and how much money they have is becoming increasingly important in Australia.