By Kirsty Senior, Co-Founder of citrusHR

For a small business, it’s not always easy to determine what the rules are surrounding interns or apprentices.

Internships have seen an increase in popularity in recent years, with young people using them as a method to stand out in a competitive job market. But it’s no longer as simple as just having eager staff working for free, as always there are rules and regulations to follow!
Internships can be either paid or unpaid, and there are typically two types of internship available short term or long term.

Short Term Internships

Short term internships are really supposed to be for work shadowing, usually shadowing a senior member of the team day to day for up to a month. As the intern neither provides services, nor has any duties on behalf of the company, you only need to pay them for their expenses.
For short term internships, you’ll need a volunteer agreement that states that the worker is neither an employee of the company, nor are they to be paid. If it doesn’t work for either you or the intern, the agreement will come to an immediate end.

Long Term Internships

Long term internships are for a maximum of one year, with the intention of giving access to labour at a reasonable rate while the intern is given a ‘step up,’ helping them gain valuable experience. If you are looking for free assistance though, you’ll be disappointed, as an intern employed for more than a month is generally classed as an employee paid at least the National Minimum Wage.

You should give them tasks that benefit them and their development, rather than anything that will benefit the company directly. However, if it doesn’t work out for you or the intern, much like with the short term arrangement you are able to bring it to an immediate end without a disciplinary procedure.

Depending on your business and what you are looking to get from it, both internship types could be useful. For example, you may find having someone on a longer term contract is more effective, as it frees your staff from more low level tasks.


Apprentices are quite different to interns. Although interns are there to learn and the agreement will usually come to an end at your discretion, or once the duration of the agreement has run out; apprentices will usually work under the agreement until training is complete.
There are two types of contract to choose from – either a traditional Apprentice Contract, or a newer Apprenticeship Agreement (in accordance with Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act (ASCLA)) which is much more flexible.

An Apprentice Contract is like a traditional contract, just tailored to provide the individual with training in a certain trade. As such it can only be terminated if the individual becomes ‘untrainable’ - normal misconduct principals won’t be enough to dismiss. This can make these agreements really difficult if you’re a smaller employer, not giving you flexibility if you don’t have time to focus on training an apprentice with a poor attitude.

Therefore you are probably more likely to choose an Apprentice Agreement, so that you have that little bit more flexibility with your unproven or inexperienced employee. There are a few preconditions that you’ll need to take note of, once the apprentice has agreed to work for you:

• It must contain all the employees particulars of employment
• It should state the skill, trade or occupation for which the apprentice is to be trained
• Must be governed by the laws of England and Wales
• It must state that it is being entered into in connection with an approved Apprenticeship framework

Once this is in order you’ll need to make sure that you understand how to pay them. Currently the minimum wage for apprentices aged 16 to 18 and those aged 19 in the first year of their Apprenticeship, is lower than the national minimum wage for those age groups - at £2.73 as opposed to £3.79. Smaller employers may find this lower rate of pay, coupled with the funding available, a very attractive prospect.

The government has even begun introducing over 40 new Apprenticeship standards, to replace the current ones by 2017, designed to be more rigorous and responsive to employers’ needs. Some already have new assessment plans in place, mainly in the automotive sector – so it’s worth checking www.apprenticeships.org.uk to ensure you have the right information.

There are many rules surrounding Interns and apprentices, however if you pay attention to these and make sure you are compliant, smaller employers can find that they are cost effective ways to take on or train up new staff members.