Human resources departments are usually charged with administering paid employment opportunities. In addition to these duties, HR staff may be tasked with onboarding and processing of individuals seeking internships or apprenticeships. One of the biggest differences between an employee and an intern or apprentice is the legal requirements for each. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), public sector employers and non-profit organizations have some flexibility in whether they decide to compensate interns, but this is generally not the case for private corporations.
HR’s main function at any company or entity is to ensure compliance with all applicable labor-related laws, and maintaining compliance when it comes to interns and apprentices can be rather complicated. HR helps to ensure harmony between what the employer wants and the best interests of the intern or apprentice.
Here, we’ll discuss some of the best ways HR can approach internships and apprenticeships and the legal considerations of the two, as well as key differences.
Differences Between Interns and Apprentices
Human resources professionals should understand that there are legal differences between an intern and an apprentice. Typically, college students who are close to graduation will seek employment that begins with an internship experience – either paid or unpaid. The hope is that an internship will not only provide training, but that it could open up the possibility of future employment.
An apprenticeship, on the other hand, almost always leads to full-time employment and usually lasts much longer than an internship . An apprenticeship also includes classroom instruction and measurable goals to be completed over a predefined term. Apprenticeships usually last for several years, while internships tend to be completed over the course of a semester or during the summer. Not only that, internship opportunities for college students can often be coordinated through a college or university, whereas apprenticeships are employer-driven.
In the United States, internships are much more common than apprenticeships and are generally associated with younger individuals, particularly high school or college students. However, established professionals will often express interest in internships if they embark on career shifts or return to college later in life. Compared to Europe, apprenticeships are less common in the US. However, they are still available – mostly for technical professions including construction, engineering, or plumbing, to name a few.
Another distinction between internships and apprenticeships is that apprenticeships are scarce and, therefore, highly competitive. Although an apprentice will not earn the same salary as an established and credentialed worker, he or she will be considered – and compensated as – a professional. Internships, both paid and unpaid, are typically done for college credit and modest compensation. While people often seek internships with the hopes of getting a job offer after graduation, this doesn’t always happen.
Best Practices for Facilitating Internship and Apprenticeship Programs
The most strategic approach to managing an internship/apprenticeship program is to hold regular meetings with both the intern and his or her supervisor for the purpose of gauging the intern’s progress. These meetings are extremely helpful because they give HR professionals a frame of reference when onboarding interns in the future. Additionally, regular meetings with interns may shed light on issues that permanent employees might be reluctant to discuss, such as harassment, unethical behavior, or leadership concerns.
Human resources can utilize the feedback received from interns and management to fine-tune internship/apprenticeship policies as well as demonstrate to C-suite executives the importance of recruiting interns and maintaining a comprehensive internship/apprenticeship program.
Addressing Legal Issues Particular to Internships
HR departments play a key role in ensuring legal compliance when it comes to internships. Legal issues can arise in internship programs if interns feel they are not subject to the company’s policies and procedures. It can put the company at risk for liability if an intern doesn’t believe the rules apply to him or her. HR should make it clear what the policies are and how they apply to interns. Interns should also sign documentation indicating they understand company policies.
For paid interns, the best practice is to pay them the standard minimum wage, despite the fact that they’re not considered employees in the traditional sense. Paying the applicable minimum wage helps ensure compliance with FLSA and/or applicable state law. If your company has an informal internship program, it’s wise to formalize the process. This can be accomplished through the use of standard disclosures, pre-internship screening that mirrors the company’s pre-employment checks, and a documented internship plan. Planning helps to avoid confusion by establishing written, measurable expectations at the outset.
HR professionals must also understand the differences between internships and apprenticeships to avoid misclassification and misunderstandings about future employment. Apprenticeships typically last for several years and culminate in full-time, regular employment. Internships are usually used to earn educational credit or short-term, real-world experience in a particular field. Regardless, HR should ensure that all intern and apprenticeship programs fully comply with the FLSA and any applicable states laws.