So You Are Saying An Intern Isn’t Supposed To Improve Productivity?

I was really excited today when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the headline, “Diversity organisation celebrates placing 1000th paid intern.” The concept that some entity was able to secure PAID internships for over 1000 people in creative field was amazing to me.

I was a little disappointed upon realizing moments later that the organization was in England, not the US. But it is great that they have been effective at finding internships for low income young people from diverse backgrounds.

Just as in the US, there has been recognition in England that having an internship is beneficial for career development. Unfortunately, only people with the means to support and transport themselves while receiving little to no pay are able to avail themselves of this opportunity.

The organization that has conducted these placements, Creative Access, says that 90% of their participants secure roles at the end of the internship. Since they offer to provide support finding a job when the internship is over, presumably not everyone secures a position with the place at which they interned.

The interns receive at least the equivalent of the National Living Wage of £15,000 a year (US $19,764.45). It helps that all interns in England must be paid the equivalent of the National Living Wage so Creative Access doesn’t need to spend a lot of time insisting their applicants be paid.

Still, it isn’t easy matching and monitoring internships across dozens of organizations. In addition, Creative Access provides training and mandatory monthly masterclasses to their participants to help them prepare for their careers.

If you are thinking about how great this is and wondering why it isn’t happening in the US, part of the difference is that in addition to the payment requirement, there are other rules and regulations in England governing internships that ensure the experience is valuable. Many of them are actually mirrored in US rules governing internships, but appear to be more clearly defined. (see “What Constitutes a Training Role“)

For example, both the US and England say that an intern is being paid to learn, not to provide a service, and therefore can’t replace an employee. The rules in England extend that idea further by prohibiting termination on the basis of poor productivity or income generation. Interns can only be terminated for behavioral issues like tardiness, negative social interactions, etc.  So essentially you couldn’t terminate an intern for taking too long to process a ticket order, rewiring lighting instruments incorrectly or failing to proofread something that went to print.

Actually, while the implication in the FAQ section is that these are the rules governing internship termination, I couldn’t find mention of them in the documents linked to by Creative Access. However, I think structuring an intern’s experience in the context that they can’t be fired for lack of productivity shifts the dynamics of the relationship and avoids viewing them as a replacement for an employee, a situation which is spelled out in US law regarding internships.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “So You Are Saying An Intern Isn’t Supposed To Improve Productivity?”

  1. I find the reliance on unpaid interns in arts fields strange (even stranger in well-paid fields like business and law). The tradition in engineering is that interns are paid just a little less than entry-level professionals—the point of the internship from the business standpoint is to recruit quality employees a year later. Students who have been interns at a company are much more likely to apply for permanent jobs, and the company already has information about whether they would be a good fit. Given the very high cost of recruiting and employee turnover, the modest cost of 10 weeks salary is a good deal. Paying interns also removes most of the restrictions on what sort of work they can be asked to do (leaving only the restrictions inherent in any employment).

    My son had an internship last summer that paid an hourly rate about at the low end of entry-level position in his field: $35/hour. A living wage in our town is about $16/hour for a single adult, and minimum wage for a city contractor is $16.65 ($18.16 if no benefits). Minimum wage for other employers is only $11 or $12, based on California minimum-wage law. Internships should pay at least a living wage—even undergraduate graders at the university get $15.45/hour.

    My son learned a lot in the internship, as they assigned him work that was just a little outside his comfort zone and he had to teach himself how to use a lot of software tools that he was unfamiliar with—so it really was an internship and not just a short-term job. He may be applying for a job with the company now that he is finishing his MS, and he probably would not have even heard of them without the internship.


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