Apprenticeship vs. Internship: What's the Difference?
Updated October 28, 2022
At the start of their careers, it's common for professionals to gain work experience by becoming an intern or an apprentice at an organization. In these roles, professionals can learn about the field and better understand what it's like to work in a particular role and whether it's a job they're interested in pursuing. If you're hoping to gain experience in a specific field, it's beneficial to learn more about apprenticeships and interviews to discover which one is right for you. In this article, we define apprenticeships and internships and share the differences between an apprenticeship vs. an internship.
Apprenticeship vs. internship definitions
Before comparing an apprenticeship vs. an internship, it's helpful to learn more about both career opportunities:
What is an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is a long-term training program that offers an individual the chance to learn trade skills while receiving living wages. Organizations offer apprenticeships to help employees quickly develop the abilities required to perform skilled jobs. During an apprenticeship, apprentices work under the guidance of one or more qualified employees for one to six years, depending on the job and industry. At the end of the apprenticeship, the apprentice earns a certification or licence to work independently. Some industries that offer apprenticeships include:
What is an internship?
An internship is an opportunity to learn more about a specific industry. Students commonly consider completing internships to understand a field better and decide if it's a good career fit. Interns complete many professional tasks at an internship, like preparing equipment, running errands, and filing paperwork.
Usually, organizations offer internships to university students and recent graduates. Many universities allow their students to earn school credits for completing internships. Typically, internships last for one to two months, but it's also possible to have an internship for an entire semester or between semesters, like during the summer. Some industries that offer internships include:
Biotech and pharmaceuticals
Marketing and sales
Key differences between an apprenticeship and an internship
Here are some of the key differences between an apprenticeship and an internship:
The typical length of apprenticeships and internships differs significantly. Most interns work for an organization for a single semester or a summer before beginning a different internship at another organization or finding a job. For example, a legal intern may work at one law firm for a semester and then work at a different law firm the following semester. Conversely, most apprentices take years to complete their apprenticeship, and it's a full-time commitment. For example, HVAC apprentices usually work as apprentices for four to five years before becoming HVAC technicians.
Organizations pay apprentices, while organizations may or may not pay interns. Since apprentices contribute almost immediately to the organization, organizations compensate apprentices for their work. Conversely, interns spend more time learning about an industry and the various job functions. Since interns rarely make as many valuable contributions to an organization compared to apprentices, the pay is generally less than apprentices' wages. Often, interns' pay depends on their duties and the industry. For example, an engineering intern who gets hands-on training may receive better compensation than a general intern for a marketing firm.
Many interns are still in college or high school when they finish their internship. Typically, they work at their internship part-time or for very brief full-time periods and only receive a basic understanding of the role. You can still build valuable networking connections by completing an internship, but organizations likely won't guarantee that you get a full-time role once you graduate. Undergoing an internship can also help you craft a stronger resume when you're ready to pursue a job.
Apprenticeships last for more extended periods and provide in-depth training. When professionals finish apprenticeships, they most likely transition into the same role without the apprentice designation and earn a higher salary. Typically, organizations pay competitive wages to keep the apprentice as an employee since they invested extensive time and money into training them. For example, if an organization trains an HVAC apprentice, it's likely the organization may hire the apprentice as an HVAC technician upon completion of the apprenticeship.
As an intern, you might likely work with several employees, such as supervisors and trainers, who help you learn and develop skills to complete assigned tasks. It's rare for interns to have a specific mentor unless they actively seek one. Conversely, as an apprentice, you assist trained employees in the role you hope to have someday. For example, if you aspire to become an electrician, your mentor is likely a certified electrician.
Over time, as an apprentice, you gain more independence in your work, which typically involves less supervision from your mentor and additional responsibilities. You're also more likely to develop a mentor-mentee relationship with your supervisor or an experienced employee. These professional relationships can extend beyond the apprenticeship, and you can continue to learn from your mentor throughout your career. Another benefit of having a mentor is expanding your social network within your industry, leading to more job prospects and additional opportunities.
Stage of professional development
People looking for internships vs. apprenticeships have different career objectives. Usually, those seeking apprenticeships do so as alternatives to college careers. Since some apprenticeships take as long as an associate's or bachelor's program, they're worthy alternatives to college. Some apprenticeship programs also include college courses, so that you may earn credits toward a degree.
Internships are ideal for recent high school graduates or college students interested in a specific industry but are still unsure of their career path. They can complete multiple internships with different organizations to gain more focus and make informed career decisions. Since internships usually revolve around college semesters and courses, it's easy to complete these short programs to supplement your education.
While organizations plan the structure of both apprenticeships and internships, apprenticeships are usually more structured, while internships offer more flexibility. Apprenticeships provide more training structure than internships. Typically, apprentices receive classroom instruction, then practise what they learned. For example, an apprentice plumber may learn how to seal pipes in the morning and assist a plumber with sealing pipes in a client's home in the afternoon. As apprentices gain more skills and advance, they spend fewer hours in a classroom and more working in their field. This approach is because of the specialized need of the organization.
Conversely, internships require that you perform the general responsibilities of a specific job. It's more common for an intern to learn as they work and thorough instruction and conversation rather than by attending a planned training program or lessons in a classroom. An internship might feel more like having an entry-level job, while an apprenticeship can feel like you're a student receiving hands-on learning instructions.
Type of organization
You may find that organizations offer apprenticeships for certain types of careers and internships for others. Apprenticeships have grown in popularity in recent years, so you can find programs in nontraditional areas, like information technology and cosmetology. Apprenticeships are for skilled trades, such as:
Heavy machinery operating
Since many internships are more general, you can usually find them in various fields. You can meet with your student adviser to learn more about various available opportunities in your field of choice. Many universities and some high schools keep directories of organizations that like having interns, so consider asking about internship opportunities and how to apply for the position.
Type of experience
The type of experience you might receive as an intern differs greatly from that of an apprentice. As an apprentice, you get hands-on experience by applying your skills directly to work. For example, as an apprentice hairstylist, you may observe a hairstylist cut, colour, and style a customer's hair, and then you might perform the same activities using a wig. As a result, you obtain knowledge by practising rather than just learning from others who do the job.
As an intern, you often shadow employees to observe how they perform their tasks. You note the employee's responsibilities and what makes up their role within the organization. You might also perform simple administrative tasks, like making copies or taking meeting minutes. Some organizations give interns more responsibilities, and it may feel like an entry-level job position with fewer hours. An intern serves to help the organization stay productive while also learning from the environment.
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