By Andrew Sumner, Managing Director of Monster.co.uk

Internships offer benefits to all those involved. A well run Internship will provide students and university graduates with valuable skills, the opportunity to test-drive a job sector and the chance to learn from experienced professionals. For employers they can provide access to fresh ideas, young talent and potential workers for the future.

Before embarking on internship recruitment, it is vital that employers know how to make sure both parties are able to make the most of the opportunity. A lot has changed over the years and rules governing internships are very different from what most of us experienced in our first jobs.

First of all, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) should keep in mind that in the majority cases it is illegal to offer unpaid internships in the UK. This is one of the reasons that last year, Monster.co.uk became the first UK jobsite to no longer accept unpaid internships on its online job board. SMEs need to take this on board to ensure they don’t fall foul of the law.

The thing to bear in mind if you own a private company is that if your interns have set hours and responsibilities, they qualify as 'workers' and must be paid at least the UK minimum wage. Crucially, your interns cannot waive their right to the minimum wage: unpaid interns can demand back pay for their work up to six years after the end of the internship, even if they had agreed to work for free at the time.

A recent Monster.co.uk poll amongst those who had completed an internship revealed that there is still some way to go when it comes to educating businesses about this practice; over a quarter (27 per cent) of respondents only received financial support to cover expenses during their placement, while 14 per cent did not receive any payment at all for their efforts.

The rules are different when it comes to taking on a work experience placement - there is an important distinction to be made between this and an internship. Work experience is generally a shorter period of time (less than four weeks) and, as the name suggests, it’s a chance for someone to experience the industry in question. Usually it entails shadowing a staff member to get an idea of their day-to-day duties and should not include tasks that would normally be completed by a member of staff e.g. they shouldn’t do any actual work.

This shouldn’t put employers off considering interns, however. To make sure both parties gain maximum benefits from the experience, employers should treat interns like any other employee, follow a set recruitment process and plan their time at the company.