Apprenticeships and internships: the quick guide for small businesses

Apprenticeships and internships are very much a two way street; they aren’t just great for the trainee at hand, but also the small businesses that are offering them a learning opportunity.

The key is striking that mutually beneficial balance; often small businesses don’t have the disposable revenue to pay extra staff, whilst many intern or apprenticeship candidates don’t have enough experience to command some, or full, pay. Small businesses and interns who work together are quickly becoming a match made in professional heaven. As part of our continuing support of small businesses the following guide answers some of the most common questions when employing either.

First things first; what’s an intern and what’s an apprentice? Is there a difference?

Absolutely! Many businesses are falling into the trap of classing the two as one of the same, unfortunately this is a mistake. There are some clear distinctions between the two.

Apprentices are usually people who are learning a trade; they are there to become masters and aren’t supposed to leave until this has been achieved, therefore they will tend to be on an intense training scheme. Taking an apprenticeship usually indicates you have made the decision as to what you want to do for your career, and while they learn, many are given a subsidised wage.

Interns, on the other hand, are people who come in on the basis of working with you for a certain amount of time, in order to gain experience and apply it to their future career. Interns are not usually paid and tend to have more of a ‘shadowing’ role, than hands on work, although businesses do use them to carry out basic tasks such as research.

Do they have a right to national minimum wage?

This is the question that trips up most businesses. The old payment argument; here are your actual legal obligations in regards to pay:

Interns are not entitled to payment if they are undertaking the internship as part of a school study placement, are working for a voluntary organisation or associated fund raising body or statutory body.

Apprentices, however, are deemed workers and are entitled to National Minimum Wage dependent on their age and this must be paid for the duration of their work with you. Those under the age of 19 have a minimum national wage of £2.68*. The UK Gov site has the current rates for all bands, found here.

How many can I hire?

As many as you wish, but be sensible; more interns means more people you need to look after. Only take on what you need.

Is there an age limit?

No, you can take on whatever age you feel appropriate for your business, however many people draw the line at 25. This is not an obligation, however.

When are my interns classed as a worker?

Your intern is a worker when they are obliged to turn up at work, even if they don’t want to. If you give them jobs that a paid worker does, this could also deem them as a worker eligible for pay.

Are they eligible for holidays?

Yes, they are covered by law to have a holiday entitlement and should be treated the way you treat any other paid employee. The working time regulations requires that both interns and apprentices are treated as normal employees, as such, holidays, and other benefits and actions, such as disciplinary action should it be required, be the same as that or your regular workforce.

Do I have to offer a structured programme?

It isn’t mandatory when dealing with interns, but it is in the best interests of both you and the intern to have something down on paper to follow. This will help with following progress and addressing areas of concern for the candidate to improve on. It is good practice to at least offer some form of feedback at the end to make the programme beneficial to the candidate.

For an apprenticeship, there is a requirement for a planned programme to be in place. Ideally, the apprenticeship should consist of teaching sessions and knowledge share and where possible, such training should be with the aim of receiving a qualification.

Do we need to lay out a contractual set period of collaboration?

Yes, you can’t keep an intern or assistant on indefinitely. Apprenticeships usually last between 1-2 years, whilst internships don’t have a set requirement; you decide this with the individual intern.

If you have an apprentice between the ages of 16-18, the period of them working with you must be at least 12 months.

Do I have to offer a permanent job at the end?

No. If you choose not to keep your apprentice or intern on at the end of the agreed period then they will be classed as being dismissed from the role. As an employer, you have absolutely no legal obligation to keep any intern or apprentice on and no notice period is required at the end of the contract  - usually referred to as an SOAR (Some Other Substantial Reason).

What is the best way to recruit?

If you are looking for an intern, quite possibly the best way to find you candidates is by approaching higher education institutes who have students looking for work experience in your field. By recruiting this way, you are likely to find interns who will take the role seriously as they need the credits of the placement for their grades. You will also find candidates who are relatively informed in your area.

Apprenticeships are usually sourced through colleges and they will forward candidates to you. However you can register as a company who offers apprenticeships yourself and can recruit via the relative mediums such as the jobcentre and relevant job boards. Don’t hire fast, you need to understand that an apprentice will be with you for a long time, so they need to fit in with your business, so be thorough in your search.

A key thing to remember is that not every intern and apprentice will be proficient in every part of your business; they are there to learn so patience really is a virtue.

Most SMEs have a growing need to better understand employment law, and if you would like help getting to grips with business employment law feel free to give us a call. At QualitySolicitors we promise a Free Initial Assessment service, so feel free to contact one of our  experts, or find your nearest solicitor here.

*Figures correct at time of writing


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