Unpaid trainee work

Newly recognized in the international statistical recommendations is the measurement of unpaid trainee work. This form of work refers to work performed for others without pay to acquire workplace experience or skills. Unpaid trainee work can be an important activity for youth providing them with initial labour market experience. In other instances, it may also represent a traditional arrangement for gaining specific occupational skills in a given trade or profession. Likewise, in some cultures, unpaid trainee work is an important mechanism of providing services to communities, and may be required in order to complete training in a profession or to earn a certification. In all instances, this form of work, contributes to production and thus to economic output.

Information about unpaid trainee work is useful particularly to inform policies on human resource development, including vocational education and skills training. It is also essential to monitor working conditions for youth and to inform the development of policies aimed at improving employability of youth.

Persons in unpaid trainee work are defined as all those of working age who during a short reference period, performed any unpaid activity to produce goods or provide services for others, in order to acquire workplace experience or skills in a trade or profession.

Unpaid trainee work may take place in the context of traditional, formal or informal arrangements, whereby the trainee provides its labour to an economic unit in exchange for workplace learning. However, learning a specific occupation in a classroom context does not constitute unpaid trainee work. Rather, the trainee must contribute to the production process of an economic unit in order to be considered as work. Likewise, the trainee must be engaged in an economic unit, formal or informal, that is not owned by a household or family member. This is because, according to the international standards, family members who work in a business owned by household or family member are considered to be employed (as contributing family workers).

In contrast to paid apprenticeships, traineeships and other such programmes, which constitute a type of employment contract, unpaid trainee work is carried out without remuneration in cash or in kind for work done or hours worked. Nevertheless, unpaid trainees may receive some form of support, such as transfers of education stipends or grants, or occasional in cash or in kind support (e.g. a meal, drinks). Unpaid trainees may or may not receive a specific qualification or certification.

Current international guidelines

The latest international recommendations on the measurement of employment are contained in the Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization adopted by the 19th ICLS in 2013. This resolution provides reference concepts, operational definitions and guidelines to support countries in establishing a comprehensive system of work and labour market statistics, including statistics on unpaid trainee work.