What is an Internship?

In General by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

Moving on from education and into the world of full-time work can feel scary, especially after spending so long at school. To make matters worse, it is also quite hard to do. Despite this, there are some things that can make the transition into the world of work slightly easier. One of these things is having experience. Employers sometimes require you to display previous experience in order to get an interview. A great way for you to get such experience is for you to do an internship.

In short, an internship is a work experience period that students do to gain new skills. An internship may be done as work shadowing, a work experience placement, or a holiday programme. It could also be a graduate programme. The average internship will last 3 or 4 months. However, typically a placement could last for anything between a week and a year. The average time an intern will spend in their position per week is 20-35 hours, although this can vary.

Continue reading for more information on the important questions you may have about internships, such as whether you get paid and how you can find a suitable program.

What is an internship programme?

An internship is a work experience programme that students or graduates can do in a wide range of industries. During an internship, the intern will be able to gain new skills and experience. These skills can then help them when applying to other jobs and trying to break into the industry.

This is especially true as some employers use internships as trial period to assess the abilities of an intern before possibly offering them a more permanent position. To learn more about internships leading to future employment, check out this guide from Prospects.

An internship can come in many different shapes and forms. The three main types are work shadowing, work experience placements and holiday schemes for school leavers. While these are all slightly different, they are all supposed to give you a taste of the company and industry.

With work shadowing, you may be able to learn more directly about a job role by watching someone else complete their day-to-day routine. This could also give you an insight into whether or not you would be interested in such a profession. For more information about work shadowing as well as internships in general, check out this guide by UCAS.

How long is an internship?

Internships can come in many different forms. As mentioned above, internships can be focused on work shadowing, be specific school leaver programmes or even summer programmes. Due to this diverse range, the length of an internship will rely on two factors: the company offering it and the type of internship.

In the UK, an internship will typically last anywhere between a week and a year. As there are so many different internship opportunities in the UK, there is a lot of variance in the time they can last. However, an internship that lasts 3 or 4 months is generally seen as average. To learn more about the average length of an internship, look at this article from Scholars.

Just as the overall length can vary, so can how long you spend at your internship each week. During some programmes, you may be expected to be there all day for the entire period. However, at other internships, you may only be expected to be at your internship for 1 or 2 days a week.

Internships where you are required every day are known as full-time, whilst others are only part-time. The average amount of time that interns spend at their internship per week is about 20-35 hours.

Do you get paid for an internship?

In the UK, whether you get paid for an internship or not depends on your employment status in that internship. You may be counted as a worker, a volunteer, or an employee. Both workers and employees are entitled to the national minimum wage, whereas volunteers are not. Interns are not entitled to the national minimum wage unless they meet certain requirements.

Students doing work placements for less than a year aren’t entitled to the national minimum wage. This applies to students who are below school leaving age (16 and younger). It also includes those in either further or higher education who are completing the placement as part of their course, such as T-Levels. This rule does not apply to apprenticeships.

For more information about whether you get paid for T-Levels, check out this Think Student article. For more information about school leaving age, check out this governmental guide.

You also won’t be paid for an internship if you sign up as a volunteer. This means that if your internship is with a charity or other voluntary organisation, you aren’t entitled to the minimum wage. Despite this, you may get some rewards such as having your travel expenses covered and possibly even your lunch provided too.

Whether or not you get paid also depends on what you actually do during your work experience or internship. If you’re simply work shadowing rather than completing tasks on your own, you won’t necessarily be paid. A work shadowing placement is where you observe a professional in a specific career to learn more about what is involved in that role. For more information about work shadowing, look at this article by Prospects.

To learn more about your payment rights as an intern, check out this governmental guide, where the information above has been sourced from.

How much do you get paid for an internship?

If your internship is paid and you count as a worker or employee, you are entitled to the national minimum wage. If your employment status entitles you to it, then this hourly rate is a legal requirement.

If you aren’t being paid this, then you can make a complaint to HMRC. HMRC can then make your employer pay you up to 6 years’ worth of wages, fine them or take them to court if they refuse to pay. For more information about this, check out this guide by ACAS.

The national minimum wage is the minimum pay per hour that workers should be paid with a few exceptions. If the worker isn’t at the school leaving age of 16, they aren’t entitled to the national minimum wage. If an apprentice is under 19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship, then they don’t need to be paid the national minimum wage for their age group. Instead, they are entitled to the apprentice rate.

The national minimum wage is dependent on age. For workers aged 23 and over, the national minimum is known as the “national living wage”. To learn what the pay rate is for each age group, have a look over the table below.

Age Group National Minimum Wage (April 2022)
23+ £9.50
21- 22 £9.18
18- 20 £6.83
16- 17 £4.81
Apprentice rate £4.81

For more information about the national minimum wage and these rates, check out this governmental guide.

Please note that while these are these are the minimum payments for your internship, an employer may instead choose to pay you more than this.

Can you do an internship without a degree?

Internships are offered at many different stages and are essentially just work experience. Each internship will be aimed at a specific group of people with a specific interest or skill set. Not all internships are aimed at graduates, so it is not always essential for you to have a degree. As the point of an internship is for you to gain experience, it’s important that there are some placements for those without a degree.

Many internship programmes are aimed at 18- 25-year-olds. Most 18-year-olds have only just left further education. Therefore, it is unlikely that most people under the age of 21 hold a degree. This would cut out almost half the internship target market if it was necessary to have a degree.

There are also many internships or work experience opportunities that are aimed at younger students. One opportunity for this is the one- or two-week work experience period that many Years 10 and 12 students do. For more information about this work experience period, look at this article.

During these periods, students have many opportunities to carry out work experience in a range of different job areas. For some ideas about what to do if you’re in one of these year groups, look at this Think Student article for over 40 ideas. Other than these, students can also find themselves week-long internship programmes that fit the period.

Where to find internship opportunities?

There are many different ways for you to find internships. It is important that you choose the best one for you so that you can get the best results. You will probably want to use several different resources and apply to several different internships that appeal to you. This will give you a better chance of succeeding in your applications.

If your education provider, in other words your school, college or university, has a careers service or adviser, you could ask them to help you. They may be able to help you narrow down your search. They’ll have a good knowledge of the companies in the industry that offer internships regularly to people in your age group.

Alternatively, they may hold careers fair, where you can talk to employers who offer internships. Making full use of the careers service available to you can be beneficial in other ways too. They can guide you towards the work experience you need for the best possible chance of entering your chosen industry in the future. On top of that, they can also advise you on how to make the most out of your internship.

On your own, you can look at job board websites and search for internships in your area. You may want to look at websites such as Student Job, Prospects, Indeed, LinkedIn, Target Jobs and Milkround to get you started. To check out these websites, click on their respective links. To learn more about these websites and others, check out this article from UniAcco. 

Alternatively, you can look on a specific company’s website or send them an email. If you have a company in mind that you want to get work experience from, then going to them directly could be a good idea. While they may not have any current intern positions available, they may be looking to create one in the future.

For the best possible chances of finding an internship, it’s best to apply to other internships as well. This means that if one company has no placements available, you’ll still have some work experience lined up. For more information about methods of finding an internship, check out this guide by Fair Train.

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