Understanding the Difference Between Internships and Apprenticeships

Welder apprentice
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What’s the difference between an apprenticeship and an internship? 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.

The Difference Between Apprentices and Interns

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.

Training from apprenticeships typically results in an industry-recognized credential such as a certification that opens the door for ongoing employment in the field.

Internships are usually short-term (rarely lasting more than a year), whereas apprenticeship programs can last for as many as four or five years.

Compensation and College Credit

Apprenticeships also differ from internships in terms of monetary gain. Most apprentices are paid, with salary increases similar to those of employed workers and which accrue as the apprentice completes various parts of the program. Working as an apprentice can lead to a permanent union job or a non-union position in your field, whereas an internship will only move you up the ladder in a unidirectional way.

Apprentices and interns may earn college credit for their experiences, though this is more likely for internships than apprenticeships. When apprentices earn credit it is usually through community colleges that partner with apprenticeships programs, while interns at four-year colleges often gain credit for their internships.

Types of Opportunities

Apprenticeship programs have traditionally focused on skilled trades in industries like manufacturing and construction. Opportunities are now more diverse, including additional areas like healthcare, IT, energy, telecommunications, business/finance, transportation, and hospitality. However, the top five areas for apprentices by far remain the traditional trades of plumber, carpenter, electrician, truck driver, and construction craft laborer. 

Internships are more likely to focus on pre-professional roles for potential college graduates, such as advertising, marketing, public relations, law, medicine, engineering, finance, and information technology.

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 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.

Apprenticeship.gov is a one-stop shop for 'all things apprenticeship.' The site features an 'apprenticeship finder' you can use to search apprenticeships by city, state, and occupation.

Websites like Glassdoor and Indeed can be used to generate options by searching by keywords like apprentice or apprenticeship.

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 U.S. 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 fall 2018 was fiscal year 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted the following:

  • More than 190,000 individuals nationwide entered the apprenticeship system.
  • Nationwide, there are over 533,000 apprentices obtaining the skills they need to succeed while earning the wages they need to build financial security. This figure represents an increase of over 28,000 from 2016.
  • 64,000 participants graduated from the apprenticeship system in FY 2017.
  • There are more than 22,000 registered apprenticeship programs across the nation.
  • Over 2,369 new apprenticeship programs were established nationwide in FY 2017.

    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 may 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 and vocational training could have on your resume.