February 18th, 2015 / Insight posted in

Internships: experience or exploitation?

It’s the age old catch 22 conundrum, can’t get a job without experience and can’t get experience without a job. Apprenticeships were well used in our parent’s and grandparent’s day, and are slowly making a comeback, particularly within the ever dwindling manufacturing sector, but have internships replaced these by creating a new wave of skilling the workforce? The recession saw a 20% decline in university sandwich courses, meaning that graduates were entering the marketplace with no relevant experience. Those without any experience in their desired field may have been lucky enough to join management training programmes, but these aren’t for everyone. Many were left with limited choices in an uncertain economic environment which resulted in unpaid internships being enormously oversubscribed. What is it? Essentially, an employer will offer an internship agreement to someone with limited skill and experience in a particular field. The intern will gain vital knowledge and the employer will have the advantage of extra labour to assist with projects and general work. This is a training agreement however, and therefore employers must offer on the job training in return. Worker status Internship programmes have received some bad press previously and this has been due to some high profile employment tribunal cases. If an intern has been given a job to do, where they are mainly unsupervised and not continually developing their skills, they may successfully argue worker status. This could result in them taking legal action against the Company, where recent successful claims have meant the employer has had to make a backdated payment for every hour worked at the current minimum wage rate (£6.50 per hour for over 21’s). Interns have 6 years in which to bring such a claim through the tribunal services. Assessing the Intern There are no hard and fast rules about how the training should be provided or assessed. However, there are some general rules of thumb that employers should endeavour to establish. Ensure you have an adequate Intern Agreement, this sets out the guidance regarding the relationship between the two parties and most importantly, provides the intern with an avenue to follow if they feel they are not getting the training you promised. Meet regularly with the intern. It is advisable to meet at the end of the week (every week) and discuss what they have undertaken and learnt so far and what you are planning to give them the following week as well. Also, don’t promise an intern a position at the end of the placement. You may have ambitions to plan ahead and might wish to recruit your best interns, but they should not expect this. Remember, they are doing an internship to improve their skills, not necessarily to get a job from you. Paid or Unpaid You can pay interns if you wish, or not at all. You may elect to pay for expenses and other living costs, but a true intern is not bound by minimum wage regulations. Don’t be put off. I have a whole host of Clients who run successful intern programmes. They benefit from the additional labour and the interns benefit from an excellent training scheme and many of them do end up being employed due to their drive and commitment.