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What’s the difference between a work experience placement and an internship?

Think back to a few decades ago and the term internship was very rarely heard of. However, this idea has recently been adopted by the majority of companies across Britain, especially those in the creative sector. With many students expecting to take on an internship it has become the standard practice for graduates.

But what’s the difference between an internship and work experience? That question is being asked by many students and graduates who have to take on one of these roles in order to get their foot in the door.deskjob

Supporters of internships say they provide graduates with valuable experience in specific areas and it makes them more appealing on a CV. On the other hand, critics say internships – especially when unpaid – are just an easy way for businesses to exploit job seekers in an over saturated employment market, and they price poorer graduates out of work.

The supposed difference between work experience and internships is that people who are interns do so over a longer period and receive payment, while those who organise work experience placements are usually no more than a few weeks long and they accept that they will be volunteering.

Work experience is recognised as being taking during school years and internships are aimed at graduates. However with increasing competition and high numbers of people fighting for one job leave many applying for work experience after they have graduated in their chosen topic.

The problem is how do we define work experience?

The National Minimum Wage Act clearly states that any worker who is set tasks and deadlines must be paid. The only exception being, volunteers.

Many say that interns are exploited often being asked to conduct the work that staff feel is beneath them.

On the other hand there are good internships out there that allow applicants to utilise their talents and create connections and business relationships that they may not have had the chance to do had they not participated in the program.

Graduate Fog is a website that offers news, tips and advice to graduates, raises awareness of exploitation and takes on board complaints often publishes investigations and examples of companies that are doing it wrong.

One of its latest investigations shared the example of The Big Issue recently advertising a role for an unpaid ‘Research Assistant’ in its London based offices. The company is known for its efforts in helping to dismantle poverty in the UK but this internship would be covering lunch and travel expenses.

After a wave of criticism Baron John Bird, the founder of The Big Issue changed his mind and stated that the role will be paid. But if websites such as Graduate Fog hadn’t called him out on this vacancy would the role have been changed?

d95a5404633c023256c61551da13a44aCases such as these don’t and won’t deter people from applying and there always are a line of eager applicants in this tight employment world.

The main problem is that it’s hard to draw the line between what is a rewarding experience and what is exploitative one.

Perhaps if future candidates avoid the pressures of applying for an internship then could potentially force employers to come up with more paid job roles and reduce exploitation.

Words: Georgia Knight
Tweet Georgia @GeorgiaRMK


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The UK's first Career & Lifestyle Magazine for women in the Creative and Media industries.

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