Structuring a quality internship

With the exception of charities and voluntary organisations, all employers are required by law to pay interns at least National Minimum Wage if they’re fulfilling worker status – whatever their title describes them as.

For many small arts organisations that have few if any paid staff, paying interns might not be possible. In this case, an organisation should think about what else they can offer from the ‘Model Internship’ checklist below in order to build a worthwhile internship experience. By the same token, a paid internship can be unsuccessful if it fails to meet the other aspects of the checklist. To help ensure clarity for both your organisation and any potential interns, it is good practice to have an Internship policy in place and to display this alongside any advertised internships.

The Model Internship Checklist – For Organisations

Can we offer…? Yes/No Is it worth running an internship without it?
pay, at or above National Minimum Wage

 

paid holiday, at least is line with the statutory minimum

 

paid expenses (e.g. travel/lunch costs)

 

a statement of agreement or a standard contract that includes the duration of the internship, and hours to be worked

 

the opportunity to attend job interviews or (for students) the chance to attend meetings related to your studies

 

an induction which introduces the intern to their colleagues, gives an idea of the organisation history and mission, and covers basic Health and Safety (e.g. fire procedure)

 

a clear outline of the work an intern will be completing

 

a varied workload that does not consist solely of repetitive administrative tasks, such as data entry

 

the option to discuss and set learning objectives

 

the chance to attend staff meetings

 

the chance to attend meetings with other departments and/or external partners

 

opportunities for networking

 

an assigned mentor/supervisor

 

regular check-ins with a mentor/supervisor, providing  an intern with feedback on their performance

 

scope to work collaboratively with other members of the team

 

a space to work within the same office as the team for the duration of the internship

 

a chance for an intern to give feedback on their experience at the end of the internship

 

a reference letter which includes details of the work undertaken

 

Preparation is key to ensuring a mutually beneficial internship. Before advertising an internship, consider how your organisation will benefit, as well as what insight and skills the intern will gain. You should identify what work the intern will do, including which individuals/teams the intern will work with.  Understandably you will want the intern to carry out useful work, but you should also consider how the internship will provide a genuine learning experience with an opportunity to acquire skills and experience relevant to a career in the arts. Taking on an intern will also require some work – establish whether you have the capacity to accommodate and support an intern.

When recruiting for an internship position, you should consider what skills and personal attributes the intern should demonstrate. The recruitment process should be as open and rigorous as when recruiting regular employees. Internships should be advertised so as to ensure fair and equal access to those without existing contacts in the sector. The advert should specify the expected working hours, start date and length of the internship, in addition to details of pay and expenses offered. The advert should also clearly indicate the intern’s role and responsibilities, and what skills and experience they can expect to gain.

It’s important that interns receive a proper induction at the beginning of their internship. Whatever the size of your organisation, joining a new workplace can be an intimidating experience for an intern. An induction should help to put the intern at ease and enable them to become a fully integrated team member. In addition to introducing an intern to their colleagues, it should provide some insight into the structure, objectives and values of the organisation, a tour of the building, and finally explain any practical issues such as how to claim expenses, and health and safety procedures.

Interns should be made to feel that they are part of the team, and not treated like visitors. If possible, providing a dedicated space for the intern to work will help with this, as well as inviting an intern to meetings and introducing them to external collaborators where appropriate. Try to devise a work plan which will provide the intern with a variety of learning opportunities, and which doesn’t consist solely of repetitive administrative tasks such as data entry. Interns should be allowed to attend job interviews or complete study requirement as necessary, as well as receiving equal access to paid holiday where the internship is paid.

Interns are likely to be new to the jobs market, and may require more support and supervision than regular staff. As such, they should have a clearly identified supervisor/mentor. This person should provide on-going feedback on specific tasks as well as the intern’s professional behaviour more generally. They should also agree learning objectives with the intern, and use these as the basis for regular performance reviews. At the conclusion of the internship, they should conduct a formal performance review with the intern to evaluate the success of their time with the organisation. The intern should also be supplied with a reference letter and an opportunity to provide feedback on their experience in an exit interview.

For more information on the advantages of paying interns, read the SNAAP Special Report: The Internship Divide for Recent Graduates.

Taking on an intern is not the same as hiring a new employee. While an intern is generally expected to contribute to an organisation, completing ‘real’ work and functioning as part of the team, the intern should also have the chance to gain new skills, build on their knowledge and gain insight into working in their chosen sector.


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