Why take on an intern?

The prospect of having an additional worker (and for a lower cost than a regular employee) may appear very tempting when time and resources are at a premium. However, it is important to take into consideration the extra work that taking on an intern will generate. Though an intern will almost certainly complete real and valuable work for your organisation, supervising and supporting them will also take away time from more experienced members of staff.

While there is yet to be any large-scale research into arts internships in the UK, anecdotal evidence suggests that paying interns has multiple benefits – for both the intern and the host organisation. Interns feel better enabled financially to take on internships, and are more likely to see these positions as ‘real’ jobs which deserve their full commitment. Organisations find that paying interns makes them feel more valued, and helps them to be viewed as a true member of the team as opposed to merely a visitor, ultimately making them a more productive employee.

The following lists outline the key pros and cons, reported by organisations, of taking on an intern:

Pros

  • Gain new ideas and a fresh pair of eyes. Interns may be joining you directly from study, from a differently sized organisation or from another sector altogether. Either way, interns can bring a new perspective to an organisation and inspire a different way of approaching projects.
  • Test out a new potential member of staff before taking them onto a longer-term contract. Internships can act as a useful probationary and training period for new employees, enabling them to hit the ground running when they transition to a being a regular member of staff.
  • Nurture the next generation of workers. Offering internships shows a willing and commitment to developing those new to the sector by providing a chance to learn relevant skills and gain insight into working in the arts. Internships can provide invaluable first experiences for those trying to break into the sector and will often influence their career trajectory.
  • Increase your work capacity. Paid at National Minimum Wage (or London Living Wage), an internship position still requires considerably less funding than an entry-level position in the sector. While interns may be less experienced, their enthusiasm and willingness to learn can often make them excellent value for money.

Cons

  • Time. Training and supporting an intern is time-intensive and will add to the workload of the intern supervisor/mentor. Time will also be required for regular check-ins with the intern to provide them with feedback on their performance.
  • Length. Interns generally range in duration between one and twelve months. Depending on your organisation, you may find that shorter internships do not allow enough time for an intern to really get to grips with the function of the organisation and make a genuine contribution.
  • Space. For an internship to be the most beneficial for all parties, an intern should be based within the organisation. For small arts organisations in particular, finding a space where an intern can work and feel included in the team can prove challenging.
  • Cost. Stretched budgets may make finding the funds to pay an intern difficult. With a few exceptions  employers are required to pay anyone fulfilling the role of a worker at NMW or above.  Despite popular perception, this is not a ‘legal grey area’ and neglecting to pay interns can leave organisations vulnerable to employment tribunals.

Before deciding whether or not to create an internship position, it is worth weighing up the pros and cons of having an intern in your organisation.


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