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Choosing Your Path: Knowing The Key Differences Between Apprenticeships and Internships

When we think about workforce learning opportunities today and the various pathways that exist to gain relevant work experience, many people jump to internships, job shadowing, and co-ops. While these pathways might be a great option for certain individuals, especially college students or graduates, it is important to recognize another pathway that exists within the workforce development ecosystem, yet to reach its full potential - apprenticeships. Apprenticeship programs offer a great solution to the workforce development challenges many employers face today and provide individuals with unique opportunities across a wide range of industries and in-demand occupations. 


Yet, apprenticeship programs are not well-known in the U.S. and people often mistake an apprenticeship to be an internship and vice versa. Given this, it is critical to unpack the differences between the two. 


A forged path to a specialized career or a short term exploration?

Apprenticeships are a regulated workforce training program that combine full-time employment and on-the-job training (OJT), supplemented with related technical instruction (RTI) in the classrooms. The structure of these programs create reliable talent pipelines for in-demand roles and offers individuals a clear path to master a chosen field. On the other hand, internships are typically short-term opportunities to gain entry-level work experience that are commonly given to college students or recently graduated individuals. 


There are several key components that set registered apprenticeships apart from internships: 


  • Length of time

    • Apprenticeship programs are a longer-term commitment, typically ranging between 1-4 years while internships are usually 1-3 months, and sometimes as short as a few weeks.

  • Industry Led

    • All registered apprenticeships go through a formal process to ensure they meet requirements related to the quality and value of the training provided. This includes various organizations and stakeholders working in tandem to develop and enforce curriculums best suited for apprentices’ occupations.

  • Structured On-the-Job Learning and Mentorship

    • Apprenticeships include structured on-the-job training (OJT), with a focus on mastering skills an employer needs to fill an occupation. This also includes structured instructions from an assigned experienced mentor.

    • Although internships provide valuable work experience, they don’t typically have a rigorous structure to them. However, they provide individuals with exposure to entry-level work and the ability to explore various career paths.

  • Earning while learning

    • Apprenticeships are jobs that allow apprentices to earn more wages as they become more proficient in their skills. Apprenticeships should not be taken lightly, considering they can result in a lifetime earning advantage of $300K compared to those who have not participated in a program. Meanwhile, it is not a guarantee that internships will be paid, especially if the internship allows individuals to earn college credits. In fact, only 40% of internships are paid. 

  • Supplemental Education

    • Apprentices receive related technical instruction (RTI) to receive knowledge of the theoretical and technical subjects related to their chosen occupation. This allows apprentices to learn the theoretical concepts in parallel to gaining real-life experience.

    • On the other hand, internships are typically used as opportunities to allow individuals to apply the theoretical knowledge learned in class at their internship.

  • Credentials and transition to full-time employment

    • At the conclusion of an apprenticeship program apprentices receive a nationally recognized credential within their industry from the Department of Labor to recognize their success. Following the end of the program, apprentices typically transition into a full-time role, with 93% of those who complete a program retaining their employment. 

    • Although only roughly 60% of internships lead to a full-time job offer, they offer valuable opportunities to dip your toes in multiple occupations and industries, while also potentially gaining college credit.


Both apprenticeships and internships offer benefits that can lead individuals to a successful career trajectory. However, understanding the differences is crucial to determine which path is best suited for an individual. Even though apprenticeship programs are a bigger commitment, they offer massive benefits, both for individuals and employers, that help pave the way for long-term success. 


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