Professional work experience may be part of your undergraduate studies – should you be paid? What should you be paid?
What is professional work experience?
Professional work experience is where you work for a company whilst you are still studying for your undergraduate degree. It gives you a taste of what working life will be once the pain of exams and assignments are behind you.
Sometimes these work experience placements are mandatory. It’s compulsory for engineering students to obtain an adequate exposure to a professional engineering practice if they want to be accredited by Engineers Australia, for example.
Even if it isn’t mandatory, obtaining professional work experience is a good idea to get some experience on how things work in your chosen field. It’s also an opportunity to show prospective employers that you are capable of blending into the work environment. It can be a good career opportunity.
Companies generally run work experience or intern programs for several weeks, and they normally coincide with university holidays so studies aren’t interfered with.
Should I be paid for my time at work experience?
The answer is yes and no, depending. Some kinds of work experience are paid, and some are unpaid.
Unpaid work experience
Unpaid work experience is a voluntary placement. You are there as a student to observe the inner workings of a company. As such you are not an employee, so you will not be paid, or receive any benefits or entitlements.
APESMA generally discourages this form of work experience, as it has the potential to exploit you as free labour. You also won’t be covered by worker’s compensation insurance unless the placement was organised through your university, in which case you’d be covered by your university’s insurance. It is extremely important to confirm this before you start.
Paid work experience
Paid work experience means that you are a type of employee. Depending on the type of employment that’s being offered (whether it’s fixed term permanent, or casual), you may be in a position to accrue leave and other benefits usually enjoyed by employees. At the very least you will get paid for your time.
Because you are “on the books” as an employee you are covered by professional indemnity and worker’s compensation insurance, so the employer may be prepared to offer you more in-depth experience and training than if you were an unpaid observer.
How much should I be paid?
A paid work experience student generally should get almost the same as a fresh graduate. While there are no specific rules about this APESMA publishes a widely recognised table for determining how much a student should be paid according to their years of experience.
Having said this, you cannot be paid lower than the minimum wage as set by the relevant Award. You can find this table at the end of this fact sheet.
If you are taken on as a casual employee then you will be paid by the hour, inclusive of a casual loadings, but you will not be entitled to paid leave or other similar benefits.
If you are taken on as a temporary employee then you should be paid as a normal employee would, and you should enjoy the same leave benefits. Part time employees will receive the pro-rata amount of what full time temporary employees receive.
Am I entitled to superannuation?
You will be entitled to employer superannuation contributions if you are over 18 and earn more than $450.00 a month. For more information about superannuation, please refer to our Superannuation fact sheet.
What sort of work should I be doing?
You should be given work that is within your capacity to perform and is relevant to your course of study. You should not be given extremely difficult work that is beyond your capacity, and you shouldn’t be given the extremely menial tasks unrelated to your studies
The purpose of work experience is to introduce you to your future working environment. It should not be a means of obtaining cheap labour.
Robert is a third year engineering student. He’s just found some professional work experience with a large engineering company that specialises in off-shore structures. His placement will be for a period of 4 weeks, timed to coincide with the mid-year break.
At first he was offered the placement in a non-paid capacity, but after speaking to APESMA he was advised that it would be more beneficial for him to be taken on in a paid capacity. Robert convinces the company to agree to a paid position.
Robert was asked to follow a graduate engineer around and observe what was being done. All the graduate engineer did was ask Robert to do menial things like collect photocopies, find journal articles, buy lunch and act as telephone secretary. Robert complained to the Senior Engineer, and was immediately assigned to a 3rd year engineer. This worked out much better, and Robert was able to observe work practices and even make a contribution to part of the drafting.
At the end of the four weeks, the company was impressed with Robert. They offered him an ongoing part time position. If it goes well, Robert could be offered a graduate position. And to think Robert was almost going to be a non-paid, silent observer…
Professional work experience pay scales
|Salary based on level of studies completed|
|Year of course completed||% of current market rate for entry level graduate|
|Completed 1st year||50%|
|Completed 2nd year||60%|
|Completed 3rd year||70%|
|Completed 4th year||80%|
|12 week industrial experience||90%|
Based on the Professionals Australia 2019 Professional Engineer Employment and Remuneration Report the recommended market rate for entry level graduates in Australia is $61,000. The recommended market rate represents the 25th Percentile Base Salary of respondents to the survey employed full time in a Level 1 role as defined by the Professional Employees Award 2010.
Refer to the Level 1 Graduate Pay point 1.1 (4 or 5 year degree) at http://awardviewer.fwo.gov.au/award/show/MA000065 for the current minimum graduate rate as set by the Award.
The Architects Award 2010 (Award code: MA000079) contains a student of architecture classification. The Award details the rates as follows:
Students of architecture should be paid a percentage of the first year Graduate Architect rate. Please refer to the Architects Pay and Conditions page for the current Graduate rate.
|% of Level 1
of first year rate
|First 13 weeks of employment||35|
|Next 13 weeks of employment||50|
|Next 26 weeks of employment||65|
|2nd year of experience||70|
|3rd year of experience||75|
|4th year of experience||85|
|5th year of experience||90|
|6th year of experience||95|
Pharmacy students working during vacations or part-time during the academic year should refer to the trainee and student rates in the Pharmacy Industry Award 2010 (Award code: MA000012).
Science students undertaking a vocational component as part of their degree should refer to the Science Internship Guidelines here.