I've been aware of the concept of interns for a long time. It was something American banks, and one or two other corporates, did. They allowed wannabe bankers to be unpaid slaves for a while so the wannabes could gain work experience, and the bank could get unpaid labour to do all the jobs no one else wanted to do.
Now, not only are they over here in the UK, but interns seem to be spreading. At least two of the publishers I deal with for the Popular Science website now use interns for communicating to lowly oiks like me. Similarly, when I attended the British Science Fair in Birmingham the other week, we had a couple of people from the lovely Naked Scientists group, a team at Radio Cambridge that record a weekly science show and science podcasts, and who do the recordings for the Royal Society of Chemistry podcasts I sometimes appear on.
I thought the dynamic duo at Birmingham looked young and fresh - but then everyone under 97 does these days. But when I later spoke to my usual contact at Radio Cambridge, she said something to the effect of 'Oh, yes, we had a couple of interns doing interviews there.'
I'm really not sure about the concept. Work experience is fine, but for anything more than a week or two it ought to be paid a reasonable wage. And there's a distinct danger, just as school governing bodies sometimes prefer to employ newly qualified teachers (NQTs) because they are cheaper than experienced teachers, that companies will end up shoving out experienced staff, because they can get by using interns.
By all means employ people on a provisional contract where they have to leave after a period if they don't come up to scratch - but employ them decently, please, or not at all.