Internships – a good opportunity or a waste of time?

Internships and work placements have been getting some bad press lately. Are they a beneficial experience for both Employers and graduates or potentially unethical exploitation? We look at what they offer (and what they should offer!) in more detail here.

So what are internships? They’re called various things but they can be basically classified as:

  • Work experience placements (either organised or unofficial) – while you’re at school and which will generally be unpaid and for short periods of time
  • Work Placements (or Placement Years, Industrial Placements, Sandwich Year) – official placements that are part of a Degree (or other further education) course, often last for an academic year and which usually provide a salary/wage
  • Internships (or Graduate Placements, Summer Internships, Gap years) – during term-time/holidays or when you leave University/College. Here’s where the biggest problems arise – paid or unpaid? See below
  • Plus Volunteering and Work-shadowing opportunities (generally unpaid).

So should you be paid?

Unfortunately, this is another grey area for employment law! The circumstances where internships can be offered work without pay are limited – ‘real’ interns should not be carrying out a role that is performed by a current worker.

You must be paid the National Minimum Wage if you’re a ‘worker’ (or Employee) over compulsory school leaving age. If you’re a Worker, you’re also entitled to holiday pay, sick pay, Agency Workers Regulations and so on (see our Guide to Your Employment Rights). You can’t waive your rights to the NMW (i.e. choose not to receive it) if you’re entitled to it.

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The Human Resources Consultancy service for SME's in the UK creative industries

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