Internships vs. apprenticeships: similarities and differences
Updated 31 August 2023
Although there are certain similarities between apprenticeships and internships, there are still distinct differences. Graduates and others with little work experience often seek these opportunities, and both offer the chance to learn about a new industry or trade from experienced professionals. However, these programmes typically suit different people based on a range of factors. In this article, we explain the similarities and differences between an internship versus an apprenticeship and discuss the expectations, requirements and the sectors that use each.
What is an internship?
An internship is an opportunity for students and recent graduates to gain workplace exposure in exchange for carrying out certain duties. Internships can last for a matter of months, or a year, and the responsibilities can include carrying out day-to-day workplace duties, such as filing paperwork, running office errands and otherwise assisting professionals in their work. During the programme, interns learn about the workplace requirements and duties, which helps them decide on their career path.
Read more: What Is An Internship?
What is an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is a training programme that aims to prepare you for a specific job. It allows you to learn from a professional who has been working in that industry for years. An apprenticeship programme can last years, depending on the sector and skills. Upon completion of an apprenticeship, you usually receive some form of certification and recognition and become qualified to carry out the role unsupervised.
What are the similarities between internships and apprenticeships?
Internships and apprenticeships both typically serve the needs of individuals who are early on in their careers or still in some form of education. Consequently, there are several similarities, which include:
Working with a mentor
Both internship and apprenticeship programmes typically involve you working under the supervision of a mentor, who guides you through the objectives and principles of the company and explains your responsibilities. Through a mentor, you get to learn the following:
The structure of the company
How to carry out your duties
How to interact with other people within the company
Trade-specific skills or knowledge
The mentor is responsible for your growth and performance within the workplace, and they work with you closely until they're confident you can start working more autonomously. Other than assuming the role of a mentor, these individuals also act as advisors to their trainees and may train them in specific skills.
Working in a new environment
One of the best ways of understanding and experiencing a new work environment can be through an internship or apprenticeship, although the levels of commitment do vary. As an intern or apprentice, you're introduced to the daily activities and duties of a certain work environment and a particular role within it. This can help you manage your work-related expectations and decide whether this is the career path for you.
Gaining new working skills
One of the best ways to acquire new workplace-specific skills and competencies is through apprenticeship or internship programmes. During your time in the programme, you can learn which skills you need for the roles you'll have in the organisation and how you can improve them. Your mentor or supervisor often teaches you the skills directly, but independent study may also be important for this, especially for apprenticeships.
Related: 10 Best Skills To Include on a CV
Emphasising learning and skill acquisition
Working as an intern or an apprentice gives you the opportunity to learn about the industry and how you can cope with the demands that come from the workplace. It also prepares you to decide whether this is the career you want to pursue or want to change. All of this is a learning process as you become more acquainted with the specific workplace or industry in question. You often learn by shadowing a more experienced professional, and apprenticeships typically involve dedicated study time.
What are the differences between internships and apprenticeships?
Despite their similarity, there are still many differences between internships and apprenticeships that relate to the expectations and requirements for each. These differences include:
Many interns are still in some form of education, meaning that internships have to work around their educational schedules. As a result, they often just learn the basic responsibilities of a certain role without the expectation that they'll transition into autonomous employees. For a graduate intern, there's often no guarantee of employment once the internship programme is complete.
For apprenticeships, there's usually a guarantee of a working position once the apprenticeship programme is complete. Apprentices often go straight into full-time employment in their role once they've completed the internship.
Companies don't always pay interns during their internships. In exchange for their work and services, they may receive academic credits after they complete the internship programme, some form of recognition or simply exposure and experience for their CV. The latter is especially important for graduates who are often looking to start filling up their CV with experience.
Conversely, an apprentice always receives payment for their work, including their time spent studying, as the company considers them employees. The amount they receive depends on the company, the roles they take and the industry they work in. There are government-mandated minimum wage guidelines that relate specifically to apprentices. For example, an apprentice in their first year or who is under 19 years old must receive at least £4.30 per hour. Once they've completed their first year and are over the age of 19, apprentices receive at least £8.36 per hour.
An important difference between apprenticeships and internships is the duration each programme typically takes to complete. For internships, the programme runs for several months, often between three or six months, to a maximum of one year. Summer and semester internships last around three months, while other internships may last approximately six months.
An apprenticeship can also last anywhere between one to three years, depending on the industry you're working in, the roles you take and the company policies. Some apprenticeships can take up to seven years to complete, as they can involve the acquisition of many skills and competencies. Some longer or more advanced apprenticeships also grant you degree qualifications.
The purpose of these programmes is to help you gain as much experience regarding the workplace as possible. However, there's significant variation regarding experience in both programmes. Interns generally only gain entry-level work experience, since they shadow other workers, take note of certain tasks and assist others. They can also carry out simple administrative tasks, such as photocopying documents and acting as messengers within the office. Internship experience is often just a first step that introduces them to a new workplace and starts to fill up their CV.
Apprentices generally acquire a lot more experience and skills than interns. This is because they are actively working towards qualifying for a certain position, which can take years of work and learning. They gradually receive more responsibilities and carry out more important functions within their workplace. An apprenticeship is often what secures an individual a career in their chosen field.
Upon completing an internship, if they're still students, interns may receive credits or other academic recognition. If they've already graduated, they may receive a letter from the employer. This proves that they took part in the internship programme and allows interns to start building up their CVs.
Apprentices, however, receive a certificate of completion upon concluding their apprenticeship. This proves that they have the necessary skills, competencies and experience to carry out a particular role, making them qualified professionals. These certificates can even be university degrees or have equivalence to them, which may increase employability.
Choosing between an apprenticeship or an internship
Choosing the right internship or apprenticeship is crucial, as it can determine the trajectory of your career. Here is what you should consider when making a choice between internship or apprenticeship programmes:
Your career path
Choose an internship or apprentice programme that aligns with your career path by checking the career progress of the people who took the same programmes. Many companies showcase the success they've had with their internship and apprentice programmes. Try going through the company's website to find this information. Additionally, an internship may be a better choice if you still want to consider different options because an apprenticeship typically commits you to a certain career.
Related: GCSE Equivalent Qualifications
The industry you want to work in can determine your overall experience and success. Additionally, there are certain occupations that are more commonly secured through apprenticeships, whereas internships often cater to different needs. For example, apprenticeships are often alternatives to university education, whereas many interns are either university students or graduates. Some of the more common apprenticeship roles and sectors are:
Construction and surveying
Plumbing and heating
Police and armed forces
Some examples of industries that commonly offer internships include:
Finance and accounting
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