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What Are Your Obligations To Students Seeking Work Experience?

Published October 31, 2016 (last updated on April 17, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Content Writer

3 students standing around a table looking at documents

What are the benefits of work experience for students?

With Christmas approaching, schools, colleges and universities are beginning to break up for the summer holidays. This means businesses may notice that work experience requests increase, with students hoping to utilise their free time to gain skills and experience.

Work experience can be a great way for students to get their foot in the door of their desired industry. However, before agreeing to take on a work experience student businesses need to be aware of their obligations to these students.

How much do you pay for work experience?

To pay or not to pay? That is the question.

Businesses need to determine whether or not the student is technically considered an employee, before they make the decision whether or not to pay them. Determining the student’s status is vital to knowing whether they are entitled to a minimum wage, the National Employment Standards and the entitlements specified in any applicable Modern Award or registered agreement.

Under the Fair Work Act (Act), a vocational placement is lawfully unpaid when it meets all of the following criteria.

  • The student must be required to do a placement, as a compulsory part of their education

  • There is no requirement for the student to be paid for the work undertaken. If the student’s contract stipulates that they are to receive money for work undertaken, then the vocational placement has been turned into an employment relationship. If a work arrangement is covered by a Modern Award or registered agreement, then this is not considered a vocational placement

  • There must be a placement. This placement can be arranged by either the educational institute or by the employee, in-line with the requirements of their unit of study

  • The institute delivering the course which provides for the vocational placement, must be approved to do so. This authorisation must be under an Australian state or territory law or an administrative arrangement of the Commonwealth or a state or territory

If the placement does not meet all the above criteria, it is not considered a vocational placement under the Act. However, this does not necessarily mean the student is entitled to payment. To ascertain whether the student is entitled to payment it must be determined whether they are in an employment relationship, which is explained in more detail below.

Work experience vs employment

Businesses can use the below guide to assist with determining whether a student should be considered an employee.

Generally a student is not considered an employee if:

  • the purpose of the work experience is to provide industry related work experience, and not to get the student to undertake work which will profit the business. If the student is doing more than observing, and conducting work that is normally done by another employee, it is more likely that the student should be considered an employee

  • the work being conducted is not highly significant to the business, such as shadowing employees. The student conducting the work experience should be getting the benefit from the arrangement, such as industry experience


Sarah is in the final year of her Marketing Degree, and as a requirement to graduate she must complete work experience at a business for a period of 12 weeks. Sarah approaches a business who she knows has accepted work experience students from her educational institute previously, and the placement is authorised by her university.

Sarah understands that her work experience is to be a learning opportunity only, and does not expect to receive pay for her time with the business.

As this arrangement meets the definition of a vocational placement under the Act, this means it is lawfully unpaid.

Stay safe on work experience

Other important things to remember.

It is important to note that whilst the Act does not provide entitlements to students conducting a vocational placement, health and safety obligations still apply to them whilst they are on your premises. Businesses should carry out an assessment to identify any possible risks to the health and safety of the student, and pay particular attention to the age, lack of experience, and other things that could put a young worker at risk.

If the student is under 18 years of age, then their parents should be informed of the result of the risk assessment and any measures put in place to protect their safety while at work.

As Australia’s leading workplace relations specialist Employsure can answer any questions you have relating to your obligations towards persons undertaking work experience in your business. If you are considering allowing a student to conduct their vocational placement with your company and are unsure about your obligations with respect to the placement, call us today on 1300 651 415.

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