Data Analyst, Hamilton Beach Brands
By Kim Mahan
While most educators and workforce development professionals are very familiar with these terms, working in the entry-level talent development space, we often hear them used interchangeably by industry professionals, parents, and students. So what exactly is the difference between an internship and an apprenticeship? The more relevant follow-up question is, “If I’m trying to break into the industry, which should I choose?”
The easiest way to think about it is that internships are typically short-term work engagements designed to enhance an academic learning experience. They can be paid or unpaid, and are often structured as a full-time summer job, or part-time semester-long experience. The student’s primary focus is on their education, which is enhanced by supplemental exposure to actual work environments and industry professionals. Basically, school comes first, supplemented by work experience to apply their classroom knowledge learned in a professional environment.
Apprenticeships, on the other hand, are a very different approach toward embarking upon a new career and are often the preferred pathway for skilled trades. In an apprenticeship, the focus is on gaining work experience first, with close supervision and guidance by a more experienced professional in addition to supplemental coursework on the side.
Even though IT Professionals spend a good portion of their time at a keyboard, most skilled technologists view themselves as craftspeople and the progression of skill development more closely resembles that of a skilled trade than other traditional “knowledge workers.” Based on our experience, skills are best developed by working on actual problems where there isn’t an answer key in the back of the book, or “Time in code.” By starting off in a support role, for example, an Apprentice is exposed to multiple applications written by more experienced developers. They get to see how a more experienced developer thought about the problem, and how systems fit together.
The challenges with internships are that there just aren’t enough to go around. Every student would benefit from gaining hands-on work experience to help their resumé stand out and further their career. Unfortunately, given the talent shortage, there are not enough employers with readily available professionals to help mentor and guide beginners.
As far as apprenticeships go, they are not all created equal, and you should shop around. The apprenticeship model has existed for centuries, and in some cases has gotten a bad reputation. Even today there are apprenticeship programs that require extensive time commitments or income share agreements that affect the short-term earning potential of an Apprentice.
The short answer is, it depends. It depends on where you are at in life, your financial situation, and your learning style. These past two years have made it clear that it’s essential to take control of your journey to maximize your potential both professionally and personally. At the end of the day, success in any field requires both knowledge AND skill. It really boils down to the order in which you acquire them, and what you can afford. If you are eligible for grants, or the ability to pay, a higher education experience can add valuable credentials to your resumé. If you’re thinking about signing loan papers, however, an apprenticeship is likely to produce far greater long-term economic outcomes. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs should you decide to pursue a degree later. Most hiring managers in the technology field are looking for examples of your work more than anything.
If IT is your passion and you are ready to jumpstart your career, MAXX Potential is ready to give you that boost. Our growing alumni network has given us the opportunity to mentor some of the nation’s best technologists, who are working at some of the world’s best companies.
For those looking to learn more about the real-world experience that can be gained from a MAXX Potential Apprenticeship, join our next Career Lab!