How Interns Australia was born

My term now ends as Executive Director for Interns Australia. It has been a pleasure participating in the development of an organisation that provides advocacy and support to a growing yet heavily underrepresented group of Australians – interns and students undertaking work placements. Together, as a collective of individuals with shared experiences, we have built a new community organisation that will support and empower interns and students to shape their futures as they enter the workforce. 

Reflecting on it all, the success behind the establishment of Interns Australia truly does highlight the importance of community organising. Interns Australia is empowering a growing group in the workforce and bringing them together behind a common identity and struggle.

There are a few underlying reasons for our success in establishing this community organisation. The first is the focus on the development of a team of dedicated individuals. Active members of Interns Australia have come from a broad range of backgrounds. Due to our ambitious vision statement, it has been essential to have a structure that accommodates and welcomes individuals of different backgrounds. From the beginning, a series of democratic processes were implemented. This ensured that members who contributed to the cause also had a sense of ownership in the development of the organisation, which was instrumental in maintaining their involvement over time.  Organising socials and retreats for the team have also been important factors of team development.

The second has been our drive to develop relationships with a broad range of external stakeholders. Organising is all about relationships, and our relationships with different stakeholders has been instrumental in getting access to resources and assistance over the establishment of the organisation.

The third is the positive nature of our campaigns. In our advocacy, it has been reasonably simple for us to highlight the struggle and injustice that many interns face. But we haven’t just done that; we have pragmatically developed campaigns that are to positively shift the attitudes of employers, governments and the nation as a whole. This is highlighted by our current development of an accreditation scheme, which will be used to change the practices and viewpoints of employers towards internships. And we continue to provide submissions and input to government. After all, fair and effective internships are not just important for interns; governments and industries benefit heavily from productivity gains that come with genuine opportunities for professional development. We look forward to continued engagement with these stakeholders to improve the employment and training opportunities available to Australians seeking them.

The final, and most important, reason is that we have approached the above three principles as a collective of students, interns, recent graduates and young professionals. We come together as individuals with shared experiences: we have witnessed friends go through unpaid internships and difficulties in finding employment or have experienced these struggles ourselves. No longer does an intern or student need to feel alone in his or her struggle to find employment; through Interns Australia, that individual now has a community available. Interns Australia offers its community the opportunity to take part in events and socials and to access advocacy and information on their rights.

After all, unfair internships for many have proven to be frustrating and degrading, and thus a source of anger and disappointment. Interns Australia is an avenue for those in this community to channel this anger and disappointment to collectively develop hope and take action.

The underlying strength of our collective stems from the synthesis of the varied talents and backgrounds of Interns Australia’s members to come together for the cause. This synthesis has proven to be far more powerful and empowering than the summation of what the same set of individuals could have achieved on their own. This is what makes solidarity and community organising so powerful for a group of working people, and it is still relevant in this day and age. By ourselves, we have very little power. But together, we can achieve so much.

It is worthy to note that Interns Australia has been established during a time of reduced civic participation and when young people are labelled as far too individualistic and self-centred to work together and participate in community issues. Together, we in Interns Australia are moving outside societal trends and stereotypes faced by young people. Unfair internships highlight how basic workplace rights secured by previous generations cannot be taken for granted; their attainment is a perennial struggle for each generation.

Through community organising, Interns Australia has generated hope and action for an emerging group of Australians that have been neglected by decision makers. And that is what gives me hope for our generation. On our own, there continues to be little that we can achieve. But together, we truly have the power to stand up for ourselves.

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