More than half of Australia’s young adults, aged 18 to 19, are doing unpaid work as part of an internship or job trial, study shows. This trend raises concerns about the need to regulate unpaid work to prevent exploitation.

Doing unpaid work puts those who cannot afford to work for free and those who live in regional areas at a great disadvantage, the study suggest. This by the Commonwealth Department of Employment study involved 3,800 18 to 29-year-olds.

This is the first time an investigation looked into unpaid internships, which now extended beyond nursing, medicine, and teaching. Now, such practice is prevalent in jobs in law, arts, hospitality and retail. The researchers found that 58 percent of the participants had done what is called unpaid work experience or UWE in the last five years. However, such practice is not restricted to this age group as 26 percent of 30 to 64-year-olds also had done the same thing in the same period.

Two-thirds or 64 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds, who are considered to be at the top of wealth bracket, underwent UWE. Meanwhile, 53 percent of those in the lowest bracket did UWE. UWE costs a lot of money so those who cannot afford it are at a much worse position. Meanwhile, it is less of a problem to those who are financially supported by their parents.

So those who from poorer backgrounds, as in the regional areas, were less likely to participate in an internship, which may help them get a job. The researchers point out that in places where people are less likely to participate in UWE are the same places where unemployment is high.

The researchers found that one in four people were offered a job and many also claimed to be highly satisfied with UWE. However, the study says that it remains unclear if unpaid experiences can improve a person’s chances of getting a job.

Paula McDonald from the Queensland University of Technology says that such practice needs to be properly managed and regulated. Study lead author Damian Oliver from the UTS business school said that the challenge is to ensure that those who cannot participate in UWE due to monetary problems are not excluded from employment opportunities.