Last reviewed 12 May 2022

As organisations continue their preparations for a busy summer season, they may be considering where they will be able to source their staff from. There are the usual sources, of course, comprising of local job agencies, various job sites and local advertising. Forward thinking employers, however, might be thinking of talent pools that could make for permanent staff in the future: young workers and children over 14.

Who are children and young workers?

Young workers are defined by the Working Time Regulations (WTR)1998 as:

“… a worker who has attained the age of 15 but not the age of 18 and who…is over compulsory school age…”.

Typically, school leaving age is around 16, depending on where the individual goes to school (as England, Scotland and Wales all have different rules).

A child is defined as under school leaving age but over 14 (unless in exceptional circumstances). The usual employment legislation, such as national minimum/living wage, and the working time regulations do not apply to children (instead, they are dealt with under their own specific legislation).

What work can they perform?

Children and young workers can be of particular use for short shifts, that older workers may not want, as they are more limited on the hours they can work and may be able to be more flexible as they do not necessarily have the same commitments as older workers.

Employers must register the children in their employment with their local authority. Children can be employed doing “light work”, that does not risk their health, safety or development. This can include:

  • delivering newspapers

  • shop work, such as stacking shelves

  • work in a restaurant or café (but not kitchen work)

  • car washing

  • work in hairdressing salons

  • office work

  • domestic work in hotels or other accommodation

  • occasional agricultural or horticultural work.

Bringing a child in to do this kind of work has a multitude of benefits: it keeps costs low, as there is no minimum wage until they are 16 years old, it may be work that older workers do not want to do, and the work can be used as a way to test the individual out for longer-term employment, such as considering whether a child working in a hairdressers on a Saturday might be a suitable candidate for an apprenticeship.

Children cannot, on the other hand, work in an “industrial undertaking” such as manufacturing, construction, transportation or warehousing, nor can they work in almost any form of gambling. Those under 18 can also not sell alcohol, unless working in a restaurant and serving it as part of a meal.

Young workers are able to participate in a wider scope of tasks. However, additional health and safety risk assessments should be completed, taking into particular consideration their potential lack of maturity and knowledge.

Special employment rules

Due to their age, and in England the requirement to remain in education or training until 18 years old (they can still work but may be limited in the hours they can commit), there are more restrictions on the hours that children and young workers can work, as well as longer breaks. This can make things more complicated for line managers when organising schedules, as they will have to pay close attention to individual workers ages and ensure they schedule them in accordance with the rules for their age.

Children over 14 but under school leaving age are limited to 12 hours a week during term time and between 25 and 35 hours in the holidays, depending on their age. They must be given two weeks off together every year as holiday. They can also only work between 7 am and 7 pm and must have an hours’ break if their shift lasts for more than four hours. They can work between five and eight hours during the holidays (except Sundays, which is always two hours).

Young workers are subject to the rules under the WTR and as such get standard annual leave entitlement. They also get a 30-minute break for shifts over 4.5 hours and must have two days off a week.

Where can they be found

Advertising directly in schools and colleges is a great way to find workers of these ages. Forming links with the school through work experience programmes and company participation in training and information days are also ways to get the organisation’s name known with potential recruits.

Looking to the future

Hiring young people and children is a great way to introduce them to the business. As already mentioned, it can be used to find out if they are suitable for longer term employment. Employers may decide to offer children and young people currently (or previously) employed either a permanent role, or a fixed-term role designed to provide training alongside working. These can include:

  • apprenticeships

  • sponsored degrees and other qualifications

  • traineeships (strictly speaking these are not employed by the employer but will be working with them to gain essential skills and experience)

  • interns

  • kickstart scheme participants (a scheme introduced in 2020 to get young people into work, that is now closed to new entrants but continues for existing participants until August 2022).

Apprenticeships and sponsored degrees, etc are both longer-term commitments to the employee, equipping them with skills and qualifications relevant to their work. At the end of an apprenticeship, the apprentice may well move onto a new organisation, as there is no guarantee of employment at the end. Should employers choose to keep them on, they can be confident in their abilities and already have a working relationship with them, rather than starting someone new who is untested.

For employers who are looking to develop and retain staff, sponsoring degrees, etc are a great way to build skills, loyalty and commitment. Employers can place conditions on this sponsorship, such as a requirement to remain employed following completing of the qualification for a certain time, or risk having to pay some or all of the money back.

Interns are not formally defined in law and so will typically be either there for work experience, not performing work of value and so can be unpaid or can perform tasks as a paid employee. Again, this time can be used to assess the individual’s suitability for future employment.


As can be seen, there are many benefits to giving children and young workers employment within the organisation. They, of course, have some specific rules that will need to be adhered to, and employers must act carefully to ensure their health and wellbeing are safeguarded, but with those in place, this employment can be made to work now and in the future.