Internships are training programmes aimed at younger workers, from school-age students to post-graduates, in which the individual exchanges their time and service for experience in a particular industry. They are commonly seen as the white-collar equivalent of apprenticeships.
Employers may be paid or unpaid. They are not permanent positions and are typically for a defined period of time, from a few weeks to a year or more. When internships are offered to younger individuals, particularly secondary school age, they tend to be called work experience.
In some cases permanent employment is offered when an internship ends, although this is not guaranteed. It’s beneficial to the employer because the intern will need minimal training to transition to a permanent employee and they won’t have the expense of the recruitment and onboarding process. The interns themselves then don’t have to go through the job application and interview process or face possible rejection.
Virtual internships are growing in popularity as a way for companies to avoid the associated costs of onboarding an intern and providing them with work materials – at the same time the intern can benefit from access to a richer source of companies that may not exist in their local area.
Employers historically offered unpaid internships but these have become controversial amid accusations employers are using the interns as free labour. Many employers have now publicly agreed to offer paid internships only – some online jobs boards have also agreed to ban unpaid internships from their sites.
In the United Kingdom and other countries, internships are common at university level – students will often take a year out of study in the middle of their degree and spend it working within the industry they’re keen to carve a career in.