Work experience and volunteering gives you time with an employer to learn about a specific job role or industry. This may include watching others perform the role, performing the role yourself or a combination of both.
There are a number of reasons you may wish to take part in unpaid work experience or volunteering including;
- to improve or demonstrate your employable skills
- to get experience for job applications
- to network and form relationships in a specific sector
- to decide whether a particular sector is a good fit for you.
Work experience is often conducted through a registered educational training organisation - like a school, TAFE or university and may be either paid or unpaid. Work experience programmes are typically integrated with training courses and can last for an undetermined length of time.
There are also other opportunities to gain experience including a structured work placement, an internship, cadetship or volunteering. To gain some unpaid practical experience as a volunteer you can approach a 'not for profit' organisation such as a community service or charity.
Finding Work Experience
You can find work experience opportunities by researching specific companies and organisations, by checking with your local council or by contacting local businesses in your area. You will need to have thought about whether the unpaid work experience placement will provide you with the opportunity to investigate your interest and suitability for the new job or industry that you are considering:
- Does the organisation have a structured work experience program?
- What supervision/mentoring arrangements are proposed to ensure that you are exposed to a broad perspective of the job/industry and have a chance to develop some skills?
- What training/induction will be provided?
Below are some useful links for searching for cadetships or internships in a particular location, industry or role. Try searching online for something like "work experience in Australia" – but make sure it is a reputable site. If you don't have access to the internet at home, your local library will usually have computers that you can use, or your friends, neighbours or family members may let you use their computer.
- Jobsearch – include search terms 'work experience'
- Seek Internships
- Seek Work Experience
- Australian Government website
- Graduate Opportunities
Finding Volunteering Opportunities
There are many opportunities to find volunteer work and becoming involved in your community or local organisations can make a big difference in your job search. Before you begin your search for volunteer opportunities make sure you consider what type of experience you would like to have and why. This will also help to point you in the right direction of where to look.
Each state and territory has a volunteering centre, which lists current volunteer positions and gives information about your rights as a volunteer and the legal requirements in your state or territory:
- Volunteer ACT
- Volunteer QLD
- Volunteering NSW
- Volunteering SA/NT
- Volunteering TAS
- Volunteering VIC
- Volunteering WA
- Volunteering Australia
- Palms Australia
Company websites and Facebook pages
Company websites will usually have a specific jobs or human resources page, which might be called something like: 'Join the team'; 'Jobs'; 'Working for us'; 'Careers'; or 'Current vacancies'. You can try searching for volunteer or work experience opportunities on their jobs pages or try contacting the human resources team.
What else do I need to know?
Finding a work experience or volunteering placement, internship or cadetship is similar to finding a job. You may need to formally apply for a position and go to an interview. Make sure your résumé and cover letter page is up-to-date before you apply and be sure to include any additional information about the type of experience you are looking for and what you wish to achieve from it.
Before you accept any offer make sure the position meets all the legal requirements. Legal requirements vary in each state and territory and for different types of work experience. Check with the Fair Work Ombudsman or refer to the volunteering page to make sure you and the employer meet the right legal requirements, including whether you should be paid for your time.
You may also need to organise your own insurance to protect you and the employer if you have an accident. Your state or territory workplace health and safety authority can tell you if you need insurance:
- NT WorkSafe
- SafeWork SA
- WorkCover NSW
- WorkCover Queensland
- WorkCover Tasmania
- WorkCover WA
- WorkSafe ACT
- WorkSafe Victoria
Making the most of your experience
After your work experience placement formally thank the organisation for the opportunity and ask for a reference, both written and as a contact person. This will be very useful when applying for a paid position in the field and will act as evidence of your new skills and experience. It's also useful to spend some time thinking about what you might have achieved from the experience:
- What skills have I used?
- What motivated or demotivated me about the work?
- Which bits did I find interesting or boring?
- Did the organisation and work fit with my values?
- Did I enjoy the work?
- What was the culture of the organisation like?
- How would I have changed the experience to make it just right for me?
- What does this mean for my future career choices?