Understanding the Difference Between Internships and Apprenticeships

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An apprenticeship program combines on-the-job training with academic instruction, while an internship is purely on-the-job training. Apprenticeships are also called dual-training programs because of the combined occupational and in-class components. Internships are focused solely on the development of a particular skill, while apprenticeships help individuals put their academic skills to practical use in a variety of careers.

If you think that an internship and an apprenticeship are the same, or similar, you couldn't be further off the mark. Apprenticeships are formal, paid, long-term training programs that provide valuable classroom instruction coupled with on-the-job training for skilled, high-paying jobs.

Internships are usually short-term (rarely more than a year), apprenticeship programs can last for as many as four or five years. Apprenticeships also differ from internships in terms of monetary gain. Most apprentices are paid, with salary increases similar to employed workers, as the apprentice moves forward and completes various parts of the program. Working as an apprentice can lead to a permanent union job or a nonunion position in your field, whereas an internship will only move you up the ladder in a unidirectional way.

How to Find Registered Apprenticeship Programs

The Office of Apprenticeship within the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration provides a number of Registered Apprenticeship programs. These are apprenticeships approved by the government and that often receive workforce development grants and tax benefits. Registered Apprenticeship programs offer career training in areas such as carpentry, home health care, electrical work, law enforcement, construction, manufacturing, and technology. Additionally, Glassdoor has a tool you can use to find apprenticeship and trainee programs.

The Glassdoor tool includes both registered and nonregistered trainee and apprenticeship opportunities.

How to Find Internships

Finding an internship can seem like a similar process but since the concept is different, so are the listings. Since internships are less regulated, it is often easier to find them by going directly to the person or business where you want to intern, rather than through a state-sponsored job portal or similar outlet.

For this reason, it is usually much easier to find an internship versus a formal apprenticeship. It might be worth considering an internship with a short time period before committing time, and money, to an apprenticeship program.

Data and Statistics

According to the US Government, an individual employer, group of employers, or an industry association can sponsor a Registered Apprenticeship program. Sometimes, these agencies work in partnership with a labor organization. Programs are operated on a voluntary basis and are often supported by partnerships consisting of a community-based organization, educational organization, the workforce system, and other stakeholders.

In the most recent data, which as of summer 2018 was fiscal year 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted the following:

  • More than 206,500 individuals nationwide entered the apprenticeship system.
  • Nationwide, there are over 505,000 apprentices currently obtaining the skills they need to succeed while earning the wages they need to build financial security.
  • Over 49,000 participants graduated from the apprenticeship system in FY 2016.
  • There are more than 21,000 registered apprenticeship programs across the nation.
  • Over 1,700 new apprenticeship programs were established nationwide in FY 2016.

It is difficult to find much data related to internships since they are inherently informal. Due to the mutually beneficial relationship between employer and employee, it is safe to assume there are substantially more interns each year than formal apprentices.

The Bottom Line

While apprenticeships seem like the more formal option, as they combine both traditional education and on-the-job training, internships can be a better choice if you are unsure what you want to do and need to get your feet wet before committing to a career path. However, since you will not spend time in a classroom setting, you can earn more money in less time and enter the professional workforce earlier. The downside is that if you decide to change your career path, you will be missing the education an apprenticeship offers and the power that education has on a resume.