Paid work experience isn’t an urban legend. Father Christmas wasn’t invented by Coca Cola, ‘daddy long legs’ aren’t incredibly poisonous and there are paid work experience opportunities out there.
Although, it has to be said that companies offering paid work experience are in the minority. Unfortunately, many companies (often illegally) don’t offer any payment other than travel expenses.
So what do we mean by work experience?
By work experience, we mean a week or two spent gaining experience at a company, institute or organisation. For longer periods, or more structured work experience programmes, check out our internships section and paid internships article.
Should I be paid?
Many firms say they offer unpaid ‘work experience’. But here’s the thing: if you’re required to show up for a certain period of time or complete tasks that they set for you, then you are working. The company is breaking the law and you are entitled to the National Minimum Wage.
On the other hand, if you’re invited into an organisation to shadow an employee (i.e. follow them round and watch what they do), you are not required to complete any tasks on their behalf and you can leave at any time, then you are not working and so you are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage.
There are other exemptions too: students who are required to undertake a placement for less than one year (even just one day less), as part of a further education or higher education course are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage.
Although many people do get paid while they are working on these prolonged placements, there is no legal obligation for companies to pay you.
Also, if you’re volunteering or taking part in any of the following EU programmes: Leonardo da Vinci, Erasmus and Comenius, then you are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage.
For more information, read our Work Experience: Know Your Rights article.
I’m doing work experience in Year 11. Am I entitled to the National Minimum Wage?
Most people do some work experience whilst they’re in Year 10 or 11. This is often organised through their school. In this case, if you’re doing work experience, you are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage. You still might get perks from your employer, like travel expenses or gifts, so don’t lose all hope.
Where can I get paid work experience?
Paid work experience might seem a like a pipe dream, but there are some opportunities out there; although you’ll probably have more luck tracking down paid internship opportunities. As part of our policy, we only advertise paid work experience opportunities, so looking on our work experience job board is a good start.
It’s also a good idea to make a long list of the big players in your chosen industry, and methodically scour their websites to see if they offer paid work experience.
You’ll have to fight off some tough competition to land a place, and companies offering paid work experience will expect far more from you, to the extent that they will expect you to treat your work experience like a paid job.
High competition means that you’ll need to send in a well-honed application and CV; a casual email won’t cut the mustard.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of securing paid work experience is slim and the reality is that companies offering unpaid work experience are in the majority.