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Paying employees, pays back

Unpaid Internships. In the past year they have been featured in the news almost every week, with MP’s voicing their opinions on whether they are right or wrong. But what is an unpaid internship? And what is MPA’s stance on them?

Unpaid Internships. In the past year they have been featured in the news almost every week, with MP’s voicing their opinions on whether they are right or wrong. But what is an unpaid internship? And what is MPA’s stance on them?

Internships: what you need to know

An internship is the position of a student or trainee in an organisation. These can be paid or unpaid but that really depends on how the worker is defined, his/her job role and whether a contract is signed.

By law employers do not have to pay an employee if:

  • The intern is required to do the role as part of an overall UK based higher education course.
  • The intern is shadowing and not carrying out the work themselves.
  • The intern is working for a charity or voluntary organisation and is receiving limited expenses (food and travel reimbursement).

However as soon as the following occurs, they must be paid the national minimum wage:

  • Signing a contract
  • Being required to come to work at specific times
  • The intern is promised a future work contract

Unpaid internships in the news

In the last few months there has been a crackdown taking place to reduce the number of people being exploited by unpaid internships. The Sutton Trust Charity recently predicted that of the estimated 10,000 graduates positioned on internships in the UK, a fifth of these are in fact unpaid.

Although minimum wage legislations should make most unpaid internships illegal, the UK government recently stated that there have not been any recorded prosecutions for this. It has now stated however, that it would formally ask HMRC to focus more in the next year on firms which use unpaid interns to eliminate illegal unpaid internships.

The recent crackdown by the government was initiated by The Taylor Review, published in July 2017. The review focuses on the UK’s development of a “gig economy” because of more and more flexible and part time workers. Taylor then made recommendations which the government has taken into consideration. Including people who work for platform-based companies (e.g. Deliveroo / Uber) be classed as dependent contractors, strategies to be put in place so workers do not get stuck in the national minimum wage bracket and that the government should avoid increasing the non-wage costs of employing a person.

Taylor, being interviewed after the review was published by the BBC has gone on to state “there are too many people at work who are treated like cogs in a machine rather than human beings.”

Unpaid internship issues

  • Often they can take advantage of young people’s eagerness to experience. As there is no contract and no tasks outlined, unpaid interns may end up completing remedial tasks which do very little in the way of teaching them skills or preparing them for work. Making drinks for other employees, getting lunches, photocopying shouldn’t form the bulk of day to day activity.
  • At the lower end of the company hierarchal structure, unpaid interns may feel bullied, undervalued and misused by other staff members. This may lead to the intern leaving the job or losing the drive to pursue a career in that industry.
  • Unpaid internships exclude a section of the population (those who cannot afford to take them) and as a result reduce the breadth and depth of resource available.

So why are internships so popular?

So, with all the debate around unpaid internships and the increasingly flexible working population in the UK, why exactly are so many people looking for student or trainee job roles, some of which may be unpaid?

To answer this, we can look at the new generation of workers. Due to increased connectivity and advertisement of jobs all around the globe, making a set decision on what career path you want to follow has become a blurred and complicated process. With ever changing ideals, a larger proportion of the young generation of UK workers are looking for more flexibility and chances to learn employability skills, without being tied down to a particular role. With that in mind internships and trainee programs are a great way for students to learn a multitude of workplace skills which can be applied to various workplace settings.

Here’s a list of other reasons why internships have become so popular:

  1. Opportunity to gain valuable industry information
  2. It allows young people to get their foot in the door of companies
  3. Some interns are recruited for full time work by the companies they intern for
  4. They teach and further develop professional skills
  5. They give applicants something to demonstrate to potential employers
  6. They’re a way to test a career path without having to commit 100% to it
  7. They increase confidence and attitude towards workplace environments
  8. Interns can grow their network of professional contacts

Learning at MPA

At MPA, our overall company goal is to positively improve and promote innovation throughout the UK, helping boost the UK economy and putting it at the forefront of global industries. It’s in this context that we see it as our duty to help our interns and employees develop their skills, enabling them to become productive and forward focused members of the UK work force. MPA do not support unpaid internships. Providing young people with the opportunity to experience business life is part of our responsibility as a company and to UK Plc. We pay the students and trainees that we employ.  It’s important that interns and staff alike have the best conditions to learn in an effective manner to pass their qualifications and forward their careers.

In our accounts and tax teams we currently have 10 members of staff who are studying either part time towards ACCA and CTA qualifications or full time towards AAT and ATT qualifications. This process has been going on for the last few years and we have seen staff successfully pass their qualifications, apply for membership to the relevant professional institute and start developing a promising financial career.

To ensure our staff have everything they need to be successful, MPA offers financial support to help cover any college courses, exam fees and study / exam materials. We also give each employee up to five days paid study leave for each exam to study at home or at college.

MPA staff who’re studying alongside their work


For the past few years, MPA has been working with Nottingham Trent University to provide students with a paid work placement as a part of their degree courses. Last year, we had so much success with a student who worked in our research team that this year we decided to employ an extra student for the 2017-18 year.

The two applicants selected this year were Kieran Crewe and Georgia Kane. Kieran works with the marketing team, whilst Georgia is positioned in Data & Insight. Both have flourished in their experience so far, becoming vital parts of the MPA team who are developing their roles further than expected, with their eagerness to work and experience workplace environments.

Being paid during my year in industry has enabled me to put time and effort into learning whilst fulfilling my job role and gaining valuable career experience, without having to worry about my finances. MPA have provided a friendly, supportive environment, allowing me to make the most out of the opportunity and have given me the confidence to participate in projects I wouldn’t have felt comfortable in a year ago.

Kieran Crewe Marketing Services Support, MPA

We hope the support we have given our employees can act as an example to other businesses throughout the UK around unpaid internships. By providing them with the opportunity to earn whilst they learn our staff have paid us back seven-fold with their enthusiasm, productivity and high quality of work. Work which has helped the MPA business grow at more than 20% year on year.