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Apprenticeships, Interns, Work Placements – What Is The Difference?

There are so many different ways of employing graduates, school leavers, or people who are still studying.  So what is the difference between all of these different work placements? In some industries, these students or ex-students are the mainstay of the business.

You have some work which you think might be suitable to offer on this basis, but it is confusing to know whether to offer an apprenticeship, an internship or a work placement.  Or maybe you just need to advertise the role as normal. Then  anyone can apply,  whether or not they have recently been through the education system.

By the end of this article, you will understand the different options. And you will know which one is the most relevant route for you to explore in your business.

Apprenticeships are for manual work, aren’t they?

You may think that apprenticeships are only for manual work.  The short answer  is “No, they are not”.  An apprenticeship can lend itself to any type of work which requires training in order to do it properly.

Traditionally, apprenticeship was the route for working in manufacturing or construction.  In recent years, though, apprenticeships are offered in a wide range of industries, from IT to marketing, to accountancy.

How long is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is for the longer term.  Generally at least one year.  More often two or three years – depending on the level of the qualification achieved by successful completion.

An apprentice is your employee.  They must be in a real job which offers the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills they need to pass their assessment.  As an employee, they must be paid in accordance with National Minimum Wage regulations.   Additionally, you must offer apprentices the same terms and conditions which you offer to other employees in similar roles or grades.    But an apprentice must spend 20% of their time in formal training.  You must pay them as normal whilst they are training and you must also fund the training, with some help from the UK government.

The advantage is that you grow your own skilled talent, with the skills your business needs.  You improve your staff retention and productivity and you can reduce your recruitment costs. If the apprenticeship works well, it is common for employers to offer a permanent role, even promotion, to an apprentice once they have finished their apprenticeship.

What is an Internship?

You may want to offer an internship to an undergraduate or student. They can be offered to other people as well,  but are normally offered to students.  An intern would normally work for you for a fixed period of time – normally between one and three months.  This is a way to employ students during term time (usually part-time), or during their holidays.  It is a chance for them to learn about your industry and to gain some experience of life at work.  It is also a chance for them to learn about interacting with others in the workplace.

How does an internship benefit the employer?

As an employer, the advantage is that you benefit from the intern’s labour.  It is up to you what level of work you give to them.   The emphasis is on the training they gain, rather than the type of work they do. You may start off with fairly basic photocopying, filing, etc.  Then you can move them  onto more in-depth work as they prove their capability. Many companies employ interns for a fixed number of weeks or months to support a specific major project or event.

It can also help with recruitment costs further down the line as surveys show that graduates often return for permanent employment once they have completed their education.   The advantages are obvious – you already know the person and they understand your industry and company, not to mention the job they will be doing.  They will require less training than other candidates.

Even if the internship is only for a short period, it can really benefit the individual by providing a range of transferable skills and helping them to network and build valuable connections.  It can even provide employment references.

Do I have to pay an intern?

There is no obligation to pay an intern. You may have seen some discussion in the press about whether it is exploitation to offer only voluntary internships.   As a result, it is more and more the norm for employers to offer payment for internships. In industries where there is competition for student labour, it is beneficial for employers to pay well for internships.

How is a work placement different?

A work placement is often arranged through a school or university and is a short term placement of a student in the workplace.  The placement may only be as short as a week or a couple of weeks, especially if the student is still in school, rather than further education.

A placement is really only a chance for the individual to get a taste of the world of work.  It may be their first exposure to arriving at a set workplace at a set time.  They may have only had limited interaction with adults other than parents and so it is a chance for them to test out life skills such as personal interaction.

As an employer, you may get some fairly basic work achieved, although you need to try and give an overview of the whole company or industry.  This is part of introducing young people to the type of work they may consider in the future, so a broad view is helpful at this stage.  If you can make their time with you interesting and they learn something, then that is even better!  You need to consider this as part of your overall recruitment strategy.  If you engage their hearts and minds while they are young, they will come back to you for permanent work once their education is finished. Alternatively, they might be future customers.  So you would be wise to make this a positive experience.

What about University work placements?

In a similar fashion, you may be asked to offer work placements to students as part of their University studies.  If it is a requirement of their study, then the University will have set ideas about what they need you to provide as an employer.

The placement might be needed for a few weeks, either during term-time or the holidays.  Alternatively, depending on the course the student is following, there may be a request to offer work placement for a day per week over a set period.

There is no obligation – or even expectation –  to pay for work placements, particularly where you have been approached by a school or university for a short-term placement.  The exception to this would be where a “sandwich placement” of a whole year in industry is a requirement of the course.  If you are providing work for a student for a year, then you would be expected to pay a reasonable wage in exchange for their work.

Can a small business offer any or all of these opportunities?

As a small business, you are in a great position to be able to offer students some fantastic practical experience.  The very nature of a smaller business is that you are more likely to offer the chance for people to work on their own initiative and to develop their own ways of working.

If you get the right person, who has a good aptitude for learning and for the type of work you do, then you may find they are a real asset to your business.  It is common for smaller businesses to offer permanent employment to people who they have supported through an apprenticehip.  Or to employ someone who has been an intern or had a work placement with them.

At the very least, you may find the same person comes back year after year, holiday after holiday for the chance to work in your business .

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

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