An internship represents a great opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience in industry standards and practices. They can enhance your resume while you develop your skills, and are a huge advantage in an already quite competitive job market. However, despite the benefits, there is a constant debate about internships as there are no specific regulations about what is acceptable and what is not.
When you contribute to a company during an internship program, it is important to know your rights. The e4s.co.uk website recommends that if an internship is unpaid, only if it meets the following criteria:
- If the internship is volunteer work at a registered charity
- If the internship is simply shadowing someone else’s work)
- If the internship is part of your academic year.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Kate Lawton – one of the Institute for Public Policy Research’s senior researchers – stated that interns are entitled to pay at least the minimum wage unless their role simply involves shadowing. , that is, learning from other staff members. For work as volunteers and apprentices some conditions apply.
This stance is supported by many organizations and campaigns fighting for student rights, one of which is ‘Intern Aware’.
In a BBC documentary , Richard Bilton presents some stories from interns’ experiences in the UK. Most notably in the fashion and public relations industries, unpaid internships are quite common and can sometimes last up to a year. This level of commitment without pay is accepted due to the level of competition in the industry. The attitude is simply: ‘if you don’t do it, someone else will.’ This is seen by many as exploitation. Since the release of the documentary, the debate about whether or not interns should be paid at least minimum wage has been quite a popular topic in various student forums .
In the entertainment industry, unpaid internships are also quite common. The University of the Arts London advises its students that unpaid internships should not last more than 4 weeks and that travel costs should be provided by the employer. The university also encourages its students to get an internship extension only if the minimum wage of £5.80 per hour is respected.
Again, it’s always helpful to know your rights before you commit to any type of unpaid work. Talking to your Career Advisor at your university or doing a little research online about what’s on offer will help you find the right internship for your career.
There are several ways in which you can finance your studies while gaining experience in relevant areas. Read our article on the subject for more details.