Should Your Business Take on an Intern?

The number of interns working in businesses in the UK has grown rapidly in the last 10 years, with government data suggesting that there are around 70,000 interns in the UK at any one time. But what is an internship and is it right for your business?

Internships, Apprenticeships and Work Experience

There is no legal definition for the term ‘internship’ as yet. The term ‘intern’ is very loosely defined and may include work experience placements.

Work experience placements are common among young people of compulsory school age and may be part of their course of study. They generally occur over a specified period of time, during which the person on work experience has an opportunity to learn about the industry, working life and the work environment.

As a general rule, internships differ from work experience in that they often require some knowledge before the placement begins. Internships usually last longer than a work experience placement and may even be on an indefinite basis. As there is no legal definition of an internship, there is no legal standard for payment as yet. However, more on this below.

Apprenticeships differ from both internships and work experience in that they tend to combine practical learning in a job with a course of study. Apprentices usually work alongside experienced staff to gain job-specific skills. Most apprentices will earn money and get paid holiday time. Apprenticeships take 1– 4 years to complete and result in a specified qualification.

What Are the Benefits of Hiring an Intern?

• Low-cost labour 
• The ability to find and recruit some of the best young talent 
• Providing help and support for new talent in the industry 
• Fresh ideas and perspectives

Should You Pay Interns?

The issue of pay for interns has proved to be controversial. Of the 70,000 interns that the government recognises, it is estimated that one fifth are unpaid. Data also suggests that unpaid interns are more common in the media and creative sectors.

The organisation Intern Aware campaigns for greater rights for interns as workers. In November 2014 they partnered with UK Music to create an Internship Code of Practice that provides guidelines on pay and tenure to employers.

The government have also laid out some suggestions for regulating the use of interns in organisations. And the Labour Party has proposed a ban on unpaid internships of more than one month. But, as there is no legal definition for interns this may prove difficult to enforce.

Staying Legal

Government guidelines state that failure to pay the  National Minimum Wage  to someone who is entitled to it is against the law. They have set out a worker checklist which can help you determine whether your interns are entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

There are some exemptions to the National Minimum Wage rules. These include:


• students who are undertaking work of less than one year that is related to their course 
• people who are of compulsory school age
• participants in government schemes or programs to provide training 
• and participants in EU Lifelong Learning Programmes

If you’re considering employing an intern, review the worker checklist to help you stay legal and get more from the internship program.

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