This guide is aimed at employers that are either thinking of running an internship programme for the first time or wish to improve their current offering.

What is an internship?

There are a number of different phrases used to describe non-contractual work that offers a young person some experience in the workplace. This may be during their time at school (typically lasting a couple of weeks and referred to as 'work experience') or university (usually lasting up to a year and called 'work placements'), or they may have just finished education and be entering the labour market for the first time. However, we have recently seen 'internships' come to be associated largely, although by no means exclusively, with graduates entering the labour market and wanting to enter a particular profession. As the Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, headed by the Rt. Hon. Alan Milburn MP (hereafter the Milburn Report), noted in its chapter devoted to internships:

'Internships are an essential part of the career ladder in many professions. They are part and parcel of a modern, flexible economy and are useful both for the interns and for employers...where once they were an informal means of gaining practical insight into a particular career, today they are a rung on the ladder to success.'

What is an internship for?

The prime purpose running an internship is to provide interns with a meaningful experience that enhances their employability and skills. That said, there are clear business benefits to running a good internship scheme, such as gaining a new and motivated member of staff, employer branding, bringing new skills and perspectives to your organisation and potentially improving productivity. Although there is still some debate in employment law over issues such as whether or not internships should always be paid positions, we feel that the quality of the experience is the most important factor for the intern, as the short-term economic costs of an internship can often be offset by the long-term advantages to the intern's career - but this is only true if the internship is of sufficient quality.