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Is it an internship? Is it work experience? No it’s employment…maybe…

A detailed People Management article last month highlighted the ongoing ‘grey area’ surrounding internships and work experience. So many employer uncertainties exist as to when an individual can legitimately work for free, and when they cross the boundary of being an employee who must be paid at least the minimum legal wage.

The well written commentary quite rightly pointed out that very few organisations would knowingly wish to exploit the time and effort of young people looking for work. In the majority of cases, these initiatives are mutually advantageous – individuals can develop their skills and strengthen their CVs, whilst organisations benefit from an extra pair of hands and the chance to identify future employee potential.

However, given there is no legal definition of an internship, and work experience opportunities have changed greatly in terms of the scope of activities they can offer, it is perhaps no wonder that confusion exists as to when the individual must be paid.

Nevertheless, employers must know their responsibilities, and this article was a helpful starting point. The last thing any company wants is to face a HMRC investigation and fine for non-compliance.

The transition towards HR departments – rather than line managers – being responsible for the internship and work experience appointments, is a positive step. It should help ensure organisations fulfil their responsibilities and follow the correct procedures, not only to make placements as worthwhile as possible, but also to avoid any costly action from HMRC down the line.

Of course fully integrated HR and payroll software can further help. With only a few clicks, a company’s HR and payroll teams can work together to ensure an individual receives a wage, if indeed they have a right to be paid. The software can also prompt line managers to carry out necessary induction tasks, because regardless of the length or formality of an individual’s spell with a firm, it is important that they remain safe during that time.

To really make the internship as valuable an experience as possible, the software could be further utilised to devise a learning and development plan that will support the individual to progress in their role. If the employing organisation is hoping to appoint an intern at the end of the specified time period, this approach will also help monitor interns’ evolving skills and competencies, thus determining their suitability for a permanent position.

Granted, the intern and work experience landscape can be perplexing, yet this should not deter companies from offering these valuable positions. If properly managed, they can be worthwhile for all parties.

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