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What is a work placement?

There are a huge range of different types of work placements which are advertised all the time. However, what is really the difference between work experience, an internship or an apprenticeship? There are few commonly applied definitions in place. For those hosting work placements, it can make it difficult to work out the best model to use, and for individuals it can make it very difficult to work out what is the right type of placement to apply for.

Whatever you call it, any work placement should first and foremost be a learning opportunity, and the best are clearly defined and work for the mutual benefit of the individual as well as the host organisation.

To try and help find some clarity, we have outlined below the definitions that we apply when we’re promoting and talking about work placements.  


Work Experience: A short-term placement that is no longer than 2 weeks in length (or longer if on a pro rata basis). The role will be primarily focused around work shadowing but might offer candidates the opportunity to try their hand, carrying out some practical tasks.  Vacancies must be paid, or at the least offer a reasonable travel and subsistence allowance. The only instance where placements may vary is if they are linked to mandated university work experience.

Internship: Typically, a longer work placement of up to 12 months (but occasionally longer). Internships are fundamentally structured learning opportunities, designed to offer the opportunity for an individual to build up their practical skills and experience. Interns must not be used to replace salaried staff. Remuneration must be at least £16,000 p.a. (or pro rata if appropriate).

Apprenticeship: Apprenticeships combine a job with a formal training programme. They must be registered on an official apprenticeship ‘standard’ or ‘framework’, meeting the appropriate minimum requirements. The salary should be benchmarked against similar training posts within the organisation. To be promoted through Icon, this must not be less than the National Minimum Wage / Living Wage for their age group and not at the Apprenticeship Minimum wage.

Volunteers: Volunteers perform activities which are generally unpaid and are doing something that is for the greater benefit of a group, individual or cause. Volunteer placements may only be offered by registered charities, voluntary organisation or statutory bodies.  A key element of volunteering is that volunteers have the right not to undertake the task (even if they’re expected to work to a pattern). Reasonable expenses must be covered for all volunteers. Depending on the role, some may also receive an ‘honorarium’.


The legal definitions are varied, and any guidance above should not be considered legal advice, before any vacancy is promoted by Icon, host organisations must consult with the guidance available on the GOV.UK. Useful websites include:


The views expressed in these comments are the views of the individual and do not reflect the views of The Institute of Conservation. Any comments containing inappropriate language or copyright material will be removed.

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