The recent case of Tony Blair’s office being in hot water over unpaid internships has placed focus again on the growing use of internships in the UK.
An internship provides the opportunity for a graduate to gain hands on work experience within an organisation which will then help them have an edge in the jobs market. It can last between 3-12 months. Other benefits include a chance to improve communication and customer service skills. They have a chance to apply classroom knowledge and to grow in confidence. They also make valuable connections and are able to strengthen their CVs. An internship provides a useful transition from studying to employment providing a gentle buffer between the two so graduates develop a good work ethic. There may be a possible job offer with the employer they have been working with provided they like the work.
Organisations benefit from internships in various ways. In “test driving” possible talent they may find future employees. They can take advantage of low cost labour and if things don’t work out there is no high severance package. It is usually quite easy to find an intern with low cost or no cost marketing. Employers can often approach colleges and universities who will advertise an internship for free to the wealth of untapped talent.
There is no actual legal framework for the use of internships. Depending on their status they may have no apparent employment rights which may leave their use open to abuse. Students required to do an internship for less than a year as part of their studies are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage neither is an intern who shadows another employee and undertakes no work. Furthermore if the intern is working as a volunteer they are not entitled to be paid.
Interns who fall outside of this criteria should be paid the National Minimum Wage at a minimum and have the right to paid holidays. They also have protection from excessive working hours and discrimination. If an intern undertakes regular paid work they may qualify as an employee and will benefit from a much wider range of employment rights.