Internships in Berlin – What You Need to Know
Whether as part of a career beginning, a career change or a career boost, taking on an internship is often a great way to get your foot in the door of a new area or place of work. They provide the opportunity to learn on the job, meet the right people and get to know the world in which you want to work and therefore can be a solid foundation to help with the climb of the rickety old career ladder.
Unfortunately, they are often not implemented as such in practice. We’ve all heard the horror stories of interns being used and abused as cheap or completely free sources of labour; overworked, mistreated and taken advantage of. Not cool.
Here in Germany Praktikum (internships) are very common, so much so that the current generation of young people seeking employment have been dubbed Generation Praktikum as they can often undertake multiple internships before getting an actual job.
Since January 2015, internships have been included in the German Minimum Wage Act (Mindeslohngesetz), which introduces a minimum wage across nearly every sector and type of employment. Before then, there were no hard and fast rules dictating how an internship should function, it was mostly up to the companies involved. The aim of these new regulations was to protect individuals from the worst-nightmare scenarios mentioned above and to regulate the practice of internships.
So does that mean every internship you see advertised online will be legitimate, above board and treat you fairly? Unfortunately not entirely. So what should you expect when it comes to an internship, and what should you ensure is clear before commencing? We’ve got you covered.
The Internship Contract
It is now a legal requirement that before starting an internship you must receive a copy of the contractual conditions of your role in writing, signed by the person or persons providing the internship.
That contract should contain the names and addresses of both parties, yourself and your potential employer, as well as stipulate the start date and duration of the internship, the daily working hours, salary or remuneration, and holiday entitlement. It should also state the learning and training objectives that are the intended outcome of the internship.
The length of your internship can vary depending on a number of factors. The type of internship, what stage of your studies or career you are at, and the company you are interning for can all affect the duration, from four weeks up to a year. It is important to know that internships that are less than three months in length are exempt from the new legislation on wage, more information to follow.
What to Expect From an Internship
Be aware that just because something is advertised as an internship, doesn’t mean the work you will necessarily be doing will be that of an intern. The tasks you complete as an intern are meant to give you practical knowledge and hands-on experience of a specific occupation. If you end up working in different areas than were previously agreed, or doing the same job as a regular member of staff, then there is a chance you can legally qualify as a ‘regular employee’ and therefore entitled to at least the minimum wage, if not more.
What is important here is to make sure your tasks and objectives are clearly set out in your contract, and that those are reflected in your daily work.
That’s just a small warning to ensure you aren’t taken advantage of. Of course, the majority of companies offering internships are not aiming to do so and you can expect to learn lots and meet great people. You should be given tasks along with the appropriate guidance, support and time to complete them to a high standard.
Now for the fun part! (Hopefully!) As mentioned above, the new laws introduced in 2015 mean interns over the age of eighteen are now entitled to the statutory minimum wage. Great news…for the most part.
There are unfortunately a few exceptions to the rules, where certain types of internships are exempt from the requirement for minimum wage. They are:
- ‘Mandatory Internships’ – those which are a required and necessary part of their university studies, vocational training or higher education.
- ‘Orientation/Accompanying Internships’ – internships of up to three months or less.
- ‘Sandwich Course Internships’ – only for the first internship with a specific employer and only up to three months.
Basically, any obligatory internship associated with studies are not legally entitled to minimum wage, as with any internship less than three months in duration, unless you have already completed a three-month internship with the same employer.
Voluntary internships completed before or during studies should receive minimum wage as long they last longer than three months. Voluntary internships after the completion of university or vocational education should always receive minimum wage no matter the length.
What happens after the internship?
Whether or not there is a job offer at the end of your internship is one thing we can’t tell you. It depends more or less completely on the company that is giving you the opportunity. It is wise to figure out what the likelihood of a job at the end is before starting, given that is your main goal. It is something that can be discussed in the contract signing stages. If you can, try to seek out others who have completed the internship before you to find out if they, or any of their counterparts, were employed by the company afterwards.
Of course, your performance will also influence your job potential so go out there and give it your best!