Unpaid internships could be excluding jobseekers from less well-off backgrounds who do not have the luxury of working for free, according to a study.
Internships are becoming an increasingly common rite of passage for young people trying to break into competitive professions such as law and accounting.
Professor Andrew Stewart, co-author of the Experience or Exploitation? report commissioned by the Fair Work Ombudsman, said while internships can offer vital work experience and may lead to a paid job, it is an opportunity that is not available to everyone.
"If you ask who is it that benefits most from a system of unpaid work experience, it's people who can afford it or whose family can support them while they do it," he said.
"There's undoubtedly concern that if unpaid work experience becomes really rife then it is blocking opportunities, it's making barriers higher than they already are for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds."
Economics graduate Adi Prasad completed seven unpaid internships before the eighth led to a full-time job.
"I was fortunate enough to be in a situation where I could afford to do unpaid internships and could afford to be patient and take my time in gaining experience," he said.
"I am mindful that many others in our society don't have that sort of privilege."