• Apprenticeships have traditionally been associated with blue-collar industries such as engineering and construction. This has changed in recent years and apprenticeships in professional services (like banking,  IT,  accountancy and law) are now common.
    • Apprenticeships are are a type of formal training which usually lasts for up to two years,  sometimes even longer.  They are overseen by the government.
    • Apprentices gain a qualification at the end of it (NVQ, BTEC etc.)

  • Apprentices are paid. The National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £2.68 per hour. This applies to all apprentices aged under 19 and apprentices aged 19 or over in the first year of their Apprenticeship.
  • Apprenticeships provide a route to a job as lot of people stay with their employer after completion of the training.


  • Most internships are designed for degree students to do during their course or after they have graduated.  They give young people a chance to explore different career options, to gain experience and improve their CV.
  • Internships tend to be available in high status, white-collar occupations such as publishing, marketing,  PR,  design etc.
  • Internships are best suited to people who are not sure which career, firm or profession they want to go into.
  • Internships are less formal as they have nothing to do with publicly funded skills programmes.
  • The intern doesn’t gain any formal qualifications at the end of the internship, but there is a chance of being offered a job.
  • Sometimes internships are offered as a ‘trial period’ for a full time position.
  • Internships last for a shorter period of time. This could be just a few weeks but many last for several months.
  • Internships are not often paid, but can be. Some offer a basic wage, or cover travel and lunch expenses.  Those in medicine and law are often paid.
  • Interns may not always be performing tasks relevant to the job.

Unpaid Internships are Wrong

There is growing pressure for greater regulation of internships as they are widely believed to be unfair. The respected charity The Sutton Trust had this to say in their 2014 research brief:

In the UK, elite and influential professions such as politics, journalism, law, and finance have been consistently dominated by those from the most privileged backgrounds. A recent report by the UK government Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, building on previous work by The Sutton Trust, found that 71% of senior judges, 55% of the most senior civil servants, 43% of newspaper columnists, and 33% of MPs were privately educated – compared with only 7% of the general population.

There is some evidence that the situation may have worsened over time for a number of professions. A study by Dr Lindsey Macmillan of the backgrounds of professionals from the 1958 and 1970 birth cohorts showed that, for example, lawyers in their early 30s in 1990 came from families that were 40% richer than the average family, whereas lawyers of the same age in 2004 came from families 63% richer than average. For other professions differences were even starker. Journalists in 1990 came from families only 6% richer than average, whereas journalists in 2004 were from families 42% richer than average.

The sample sizes within specific professions in this study were very small, so the findings should be interpreted with caution. However, they point to a potentially growing problem.

As we have shown, living costs mean that unpaid internships will be largely restricted to those from the wealthiest families. Given their likely increasing importance to accessing the most competitive professions, unpaid internships can therefore only serve to reduce chances for social mobility for those from more modest backgrounds.

Our polling clearly shows that the public see this as a problem, with large majorities both recognising the inherent unfairness of the practice, and agreeing that interns on long placements should be paid. Unlike many other issues, these beliefs cut across demographic and economic groups.

They make the following recommendations:

  • All internships longer than one month should be paid at least the National Minimum of £6.50 per hour and preferably the National Living Wage of £7.85 (or London Living Wage – £9.15 – in London) – Previous polling by InternAware has shown that 65% of businesses support a four week limit on unpaid internships
  • Internship positions should be advertised publicly, rather than being filled informally
  • Recruitment processes should be fair, transparent and based on merit
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