The Turnbull government is championing a partnership with the nation’s peak retail body to secure internships for young people through its PaTH program, but small businesses are being warned to remain vigilant about ensuring any work experience they offer stays within legal bounds.
Minister for Employment Senator Michaelia Cash today announced a deal with the National Retailer’s Association to assist young Australians to find up to 10,000 PaTH internships in the retail sector.
The government’s ‘Prepare-Trial-Hire’ program facilitates work placements to 15 to 24 year old Australians who have been on Centrelink benefits for six months or more. It involves a training program and three month internship with the goal of finding permanent employment at the end of the process.
On Sunday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told NewsCorp the plan was “great news for young people all across the country”.
“The retail trade industry employs more than 1.2 million people. It is also the largest employer of young Australians. Today’s announcement will provide more opportunities for thousands of young Australians to learn new skills and showcase their talents in this industry,” Senator Cash said in a statement.
The Australian Retailer’s Association (ARA) will assist in connecting businesses with interns in the sector, with News Corp reporting the likes of Battery World and The Coffee Club are already on board.
ARA Executive Director Russell Zimmerman says the move was a good one to reinvigorate the idea of retail as a life-long career.
“This is a huge opportunity for people to come to the association and say, we’ve got a position vacant, or positions. The program is called a PaTH program, and it’s about preparing people,” he tells SmartCompany.
“I think part of the problem with retail is it’s seen as a job of last resort.”
As part of the ‘hire’ part of the program, businesses may be eligible for the Youth Bonus Wage subsidy, which has been in place since the start of 2017. This is a payment of up to $10,000 for employing a young person from the program.
However, Zimmerman encourages retail businesses interested in the scheme to contact his association directly for guidance to make sure they’re engaging with the formal channels to find enthusiastic young workers, rather than going it alone.
Senior lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Business School Dr Deanna Grant-Smith warns businesses putting on interns of any kind that they must ensure the terms of the agreement are clear from the start, whether this is a university, government or other scheme.
“It’s all about making sure they understand the law and what that provides. If it’s part of a program, they need to be aware of the terms of that program so they are able to meet them,” Grant-Smith advises.
In her work on unpaid work experience and internships, Grant-Smith believes that areas like hairdressing and retail can be particularly risky for businesses employing young workers, because there is fierce competition to get a food in the door at the entry level and this can mean businesses are faced with many enthusiastic young workers.
“Knowing where the boundaries are for these [placements] is important.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman provides its own set of guidelines for internships, which may be connected to university placements or other structured educational traineeships. The ombudsman highlights the importance of ensuring the nature of unpaid work placements do not cross over into genuine employment, in which individuals are completing value-adding projects, rather than just learning.
Smith-Grant believes that businesses engaging in any kind of trainee program should be making sure the placements on offer are not only fair to those completing them, but they also build up their confidence in the workforce.
“I think the other thing i’d really emphasise is a lot of the people taking advantage of these opportunities are quite vulnerable from the beginning,” she says.
“It’s about giving them confidence to apply for other jobs.”