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Careers, Employability and Enterprise Centre

Paid or unpaid?

You should expect to be paid at a fair rate for most types of work experience however finding paid work experience can often be a challenge and, in certain sectors, almost impossible.

The Careers, Employability and Enterprise Centre receive many requests to advertise unpaid work experience. We do not advertise any roles which we feel could contravene the UK National Minimum Wage legislation; a number of variables are outlined in this legislation and as a result we assess each request on an individual basis. If you are considering undertaking some unpaid work experience, then think about the following:

Plan how you will benefit from the experience - before you agree to it

  • Will this opportunity help you learn useful skills? Prospects Occupations Profiles can help you identify these skills, look under 'entry requirements' for the occupation/s that interest you.
  • Understand the pitfalls.
  • Check websites like Interns Anonymous to read people's experience of unpaid work experience, and pick up some tips.
  • Ask questions about learning opportunities. Suggest areas you want to learn about. If you don't ask, you don't get.
  • Check that you will be able to speak to people in the organisation, see them working, learn from them. If you are stuck in a back office surrounded by paperwork and no-one to ask questions of, you may not learn a lot.

Structure your experience

  • Agree with the organisation in advance, what work you will be doing.
  • Agree for how long and how many hours the work experience will be.
  • Have a clear end date in mind. The TV industry has work experience guidelines suggesting a 4 week maximum. You may find this a useful benchmark.
  • Agree some objectives and things you want to learn. If the organisation doesn't stick to them, re-negotiate or look elsewhere. If you are working for free, this work has to be a benefit to you.

Pay or expenses

Negotiate to be paid expenses. Some organisations offer travel and other expenses, so if you are working unpaid ask the employer if they will pay expenses, pointing out any essential costs you will incur.

Ask about paid opportunities.

  • Find out what paid opportunities there could be at a later date.
  • Ask for a timescale when this could happen.
  • Raise the issue again at the relevant time.
  • If they can't/won't commit then consider moving on, unless you feel you are still benefitting from the experience.

Understand your rights

The National Minimum Wage legislation is still ambiguous about the legality of unpaid work experience. AGCAS has produced guidelines on internships.

  • Read the government guidance on minimum wage and unpaid internships.
  • Unpaid work experience places you under no obligation to perform the work, or work specific hours.
  • The work you are doing should also not replace the work of a paid member of staff.
  • If you feel the organisation is clearly breaking the rules you can get advice from the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368. The Helpline is open from 8 am to 8 pm (Monday to Friday) and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.
  • Speak to the Careers Centre if you need advice, even if the work experience was not advertised on our website.

Advice for employers

The Careers, Employability and Enterprise Centre also provides advice and guidance for employers thinking of introducing a work experience programme.