Work Experience, work placements, internships – A Message from the SA E.D.

Work Experience, work placements, internships…………these are often seen as interchangeable terms used to describe a position in practice for a student or recent graduate to provide them with an understanding of the workplace and to improve their skills.  Frequently it is also assumed that these positions are unpaid. 

This assumption that a person does not merit payment until they have achieved some, usually undefined, level of proficiency is a long held but questionable one.  It can place the employer in a position where they are in breach of the Fair Work Act and leaves the unpaid ‘employees’ without the protection of Work Cover and other entitlements.

If you are unsure about your situation as an employer or an employee, the Institute has an Acumen Practice Note* on Work Experience and Internship and a Work Experience and Internship Policy that provide useful information.  Alternatively, the Fair Work Website contains a guide to unpaid work and defines what is acceptable in relation to unpaid trials, student placement and work experience and internships.  If you are still unsure, gain advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

As a rule of thumb, if you are asking someone to perform work that is earning your practice fees, then they are an employee, unless they are undertaking a placement organised by an education institution.  UniSA and Adelaide Uni both offer work placement subjects as electives, and students placed with practices are not paid under these arrangements.  These placements are structured so that the student earns credit towards their degree and the university provides their insurance cover.  The period of the work placement is also strictly defined.

These work placement electives have taken the place of the compulsory work experience subjects previously incorporated within architecture programs, which were discontinued due to the inability to guarantee that there would be enough places for every student.  There are generally more students that places in these work-place electives, so please contact the universities to let them know if you are interested in providing this opportunity. 

Work placements provide a valuable learning experience for the students and makes them more ‘work ready’ once they graduate.  It also provides practices with the opportunity to trial a student and see whether they are suited to employment in the practice.  Yes, there are resources required to offer a work placement position.  However, if these placements are not offered, the profession needs to accept that graduates will require greater support on entering practice, at which time they are required to be paid according to the Architects Award 2020.

The Award includes a pay guide, which includes rates of pay for students and graduates.  The Act defines a Student of Architecture as an employee who is normally enrolled in a Bachelor’s Degree with a pathway to a Master of Architecture and who is employed to gain experience in the practice of architecture.  It also provides a sliding scale for payment of graduates of architecture, including those who have a relevant Bachelor Degree, and conditions of employment.  Architects, graduates and students should take time to familiarise themselves with the Award.

As a profession, architecture is structured like medicine and law – with a requirement that people registered as architects complete an accredited tertiary degree followed by a period of experience under the supervision of a registered architect.  Only when this is completed can a graduate apply to sit the Architecture Practice Exam, which is the final gateway to registration.  This structure relies on the profession investing in graduates and accepting that their learning is ongoing when they enter the work force.  

It is a robust and established system which places the future of the profession in our hands.  Let’s work to ensure that this journey is positive for all involved.

Nicolette Di Lernia
SA Executive Director

*Acumen is an included benefit for A+, Member level 1, Affiliate Level 1, Graduate and Student members’