By Andrew Scherer
As countless newspaper articles over the past year can attest, a worsening graduate unemployment crisis has been a major symptom of the recession. One facet of this complex issue has been the steady growth of the internship: once reserved largely for aspiring journalists and politicians, internships are now available across most industry sectors, for a dizzying array of job titles.
An internship can be an excellent platform for the fresh graduate to shake off the haze from three or more years spent in the university bubble and learn the skills and behaviours necessary and appropriate for the workplace. They also provide an ideal opportunity for employers to better evaluate applicants before committing to employing them.
For all their merits it is, however, advisable for employers to learn the law, as internships have been under growing scrutiny from independent campaign groups and even government. By failing to observe the legal framework concerning internships, employers may find themselves in trouble.
What separates an internship from other jobs, therefore removing the obligation to observe the National Minimum Wage, can best be summarised in 4 simple points:
Learning: The concept central to every meaningful internship is that the experience should be chiefly about mentoring and instructing the intern so that, on completion of the internship, they will then be valued and informed employees. A marketing intern should be indoctrinated into the marketing world, and leave the experience with working knowledge on technical aspects of the subject; just as a financial intern should be given practical and valuable information about finance; and so on. Dumping a mound of photocopying on the intern’s desk and leaving them to get on with it would not meet this criterion, is exploitative and, as a result, is in fact illegal.
Responsibility: An intern can have jobs to do, but if an unpaid intern has been heaped a long list of duties for which they alone are responsible, their role is slipping away from that of intern and towards that of employee who would need to be paid.
Obligation: If the intern is not on the payroll, they have no obligation to be at the office. While punctuality and consistency on the part of the intern may ultimately be deciding factors in their being taken on in the company after the internship, an unpaid intern cannot be reprimanded or disciplined for lateness or even for absence.
Employment upon Completion: Another key indicator of a legitimate internship is that there should be scope for paid employment within the company on completion of the stated internship period, provided the intern has met the expectations of their employers.
By observing these guidelines you can avoid the pitfalls that can accompany internships and create a relationship that is mutually beneficial for you and for the intern.
There are occasions when the above criteria may be difficult to meet; an example being a company that lacks the manpower to effectively mentor the intern. Should this be the case, it may be worth paying the minimum wage to avoid being faced with an employment tribunal.
Inspiring Interns are the country’s leading internship agency. For more information on hiring interns call Inspiring Interns on +44 (0)20 7269 6720. Alternatively you can visit their website, http://www.inspiringinterns.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org