internsIn huge bold lettering on the homepage of the website, the words ‘Why Unpaid Internships are Wrong’ stares back at me from my screen. In recent months Intern Aware has assisted Jo Swinson, Junior Employment Minister in compiling a list of 100 companies using unpaid interns who are currently being investigated by HMRC is it just me who thinks that perhaps they are wrong?

It was this recent media storm that got us thinking about our use of ‘Interns.’ Maureen Scholefield our Managing Director is Chair of the Haywards Heath and District Business Association (HHDBA), a voluntary organisation designed to support local businesses and enhance the local economy of Haywards Heath and surrounding areas. HHDBA is a fledgling organisation that relies on its 140 members and a strong committee who dedicate their time to making it successful. In the latter part of 2012 Maureen and I started a pilot ‘Internship’ where local people could volunteer to help develop and grow the HHDBA whilst gaining new skills and benefiting from working in an office environment. So far four ‘interns’ have completed the scheme and have all been successful in finding full time employment.

I am well aware that some companies have been abusing the system and have been treating their interns in a manner which makes me wonder why their managers haven’t been fired (or better yet in some cases, set on fire!) One story that sticks in my mind is that of a man who did paid work experience but had to do 36 hours overtime, he didn’t get paid for it and when he asked about it he was told that the manager had lost the paperwork which contained all the details. He never got paid for it. This company was actually featured in People Management’s ‘Best Companies for HR Ever.

Interesting management techniques aside, the issue that is at the forefront of this debate is cash! The European Youth Forum conducted a survey which noted 51% of interns surveyed were paid during their internship and 41% found that the compensation offered were inadequate to cover their day to day expenses. This coupled with the legal implications of treating interns as workers with set working hours and duties, made for an interesting chat over lunch with our CIPD External Verifier.

It is worth noting at this point that HHDBA do not pay our ‘interns’ but Cullen Scholefield does pay travel and out of pocket expenses, as HHDBA are a volunteer organisation and they are on record as ‘Volunteers’. However this name has proved problematic for us because they want to be called ‘Interns.’ Emily Miller, who is currently doing her experience here at Cullen Scholefield said: “Being an intern sounds more professional and determined. Being a volunteer sounds less committed and doesn’t really give the impact you desire on your CV.”

And I completely agree! Intern does have a certain ring to it and makes so much more of an impact on a CV than volunteer which in my personal opinion is a bit ‘wishy washy’ to say the least.

We are extremely proud of our 100% success rate in helping young people into work and have no plans to slow down any time soon. Our latest success story can be found in June’s edition of Sussex Living Magazine or on the link below.

My view is that if the scheme truly equips people with the skills needed in the workplace and genuinely helps them to find employment whilst also increasing diversity and helping our employer brand in the process – what’s not to like? Start the debate by commenting below…

By Hollie Dunster – Administration Assistant and Intern Coordinator