En route to landing their dream job, many young people these days take on apprenticeships or internships (or both). They do this to beef up their CV, gain some useful experience and build up connections, with the hope that they’ll eventually land a permanent job in that field. These schemes, especially apprenticeships, can lead into good, steady jobs. However, there’s the issue of pay.
In the UK, apprenticeships pay just £3.90 per hour to those aged 16-18. For those 19 and above, they get the same wage for their first year as an apprentice; from their second year onwards, they get paid the national minimum wage. Apprenticeships can be very worthwhile indeed, though the problem is that those over 19 earn less than half the minimum wage for their first year. For people in the 20s and above, apprenticeships may well be appealing – they’re a chance to learn and develop new skills in a work environment, however the low pay will put a lot of potential apprentices off.
Another problem is with internships, specifically the ones that don’t offer any pay. There have been calls for all internships to be paid, since a lot of them basically have the interns doing the same sort of work as paid employees. Technically speaking, employees don’t have to pay interns if the intern is a student on a placement, is under 16, is working for a charity or non-profit organisation, or is shadowing someone else. Some willingly accept unpaid work simply because they want the work opportunity and don’t necessarily need a wage. Then there are people who aren’t rich who want to work and be paid for it – the low starting wage for apprenticeships isn’t much of a help, nor are unpaid internships.
With internships especially, the laws on payment aren’t exactly straightforward and there hasn’t been a full-on crackdown on those not paying interns, which is why so many employers are able to get away with not paying their interns. It all boils down to how interns are classified. If they’re listed as workers, they’re entitled to minimum wage pay. If they’re listed as something else, they’re not entitled to pay. The UK government has started dealing with the problem of unpaid internships – people working for free and people who don’t need money getting an advantage – but so far, it’s focused on clarifying how workers are treated, rather than engaging in a full crackdown.
Ideally, people doing any kind of work should be paid. Obviously we’re not counting those who actively volunteer and agree not to be paid. But for apprentices and especially interns, it’s generally felt that pay could and should improve. All apprenticeships and internships should indeed be paid because people are doing work. Apprenticeships, at least, are paid, whereas some internships aren’t. Hopefully more will be done to ensure those who take part in these schemes earn a decent amount of money from them so that these schemes don’t end up being just for those who can afford to work and not get paid. Work should earn you money; you shouldn’t have to lose money to be able to work and gain experience.