Apprenticeship vs Internship: Finding the right route for you

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If you want to start working in a certain industry and know that you need some training, but are not sure which route to take, this guide will hopefully help you make an informed decision about what is best for you.

Internships explained

Some employers might offer internships within a team or department of the organisation. The length of an internship can vary widely, as there is no set structure or programme associated with internships offered by private businesses.

For some companies, an internship might essentially be like a work experience placement, with anywhere from 1-2 weeks upwards spent with the company. Other companies offer an internship of around 2-3 months in length, and some organisations will offer a longer internship, of anywhere between 6-12 months in duration.

As there is no specific national framework to stick to or ‘classroom training’ required as part of an internship, often the training provided by the employer is all hand-on work-related training and will not result in any kind of formal qualification or certification. There is no minimum standard of training that employers have to meet for an internship.

Internships are often used as a kind of taster experience, for someone to try working in a specific workplace to see if it’s a good fit for the intern as well as the employer over the weeks or months specified at the beginning. If it is successful and a positive experience for all, then employers will sometimes offer a permanent job role once the internship has finished, but they are under no obligation to do so.

Do interns get paid?

In the UK, interns are legally required to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage if they are classed as a worker or an employee for the duration of the internship.

However, if the intern is considered a volunteer, or is a student completing a compulsory internship as part of their course, they are not legally required to be paid, although the employer may do so if they choose. The same applies if the internship only includes shadowing an employee of the organisation and doesn’t involve the intern doing any work themselves. Some employers who offer these kinds of unpaid internships do contribute to an intern’s travel costs and some expenses, such as lunch costs.

It’s always important to find out whether any potential internship you are considering is a paid role.

You can find out more about employment rights for interns here.

Who might an internship be suitable for?

Internships might suit someone who is looking for a fairly flexible and short-term way to gain some practical experience in a specific job role or industry. Many students will look for internships over their summer breaks to help gain work experience in a field that they want to work in once they complete their studies. Others might look for an internship if they are unsure what career they want to pursue and want to try something out for a short period of time to see if they like it, without looking for a permanent role or an apprenticeship that lasts for at least 12 months.

Apprenticeships explained

Employers can offer apprenticeships if they have a Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS) account and have teamed up with an apprenticeship training provider to deliver the specific programme being offered. There are a wide range of different apprenticeships across many industries, from engineering to marketing or healthcare to hair and beauty.

There are various levels of apprenticeship (explained below) and the duration is always at least 12 months, depending on the apprenticeship qualifications involved. An apprentice is an employee of the company and spends at least 20% of their time in off-the-job training, provided by the training partner, and the rest of the time working in a practical job role for the organisation and being trained directly in the skills they need for the job itself. A successfully completed apprenticeship will result in the award of the relevant apprenticeship qualifications.

Apprenticeship levels explained

The qualification that an apprentice will gain from successfully completing the programme will depend on what level the apprenticeship is. The levels are:

  • Level 2 (Intermediate) – equivalent to five GCSE passes
  • Level 3 (Advanced) – equivalent to two A-level passes
  • Levels 4-5 (Higher) – equivalent to a foundation degree
  • Level 6-7 (Degree) – equivalent to a bachelor’s or Masters degree

Do apprentices get paid?

Apprentices do get paid, including for the time they are doing the off-the-job training and are therefore not at work. For the first 12 months of an apprenticeship, the employer is legally obliged to pay them at least the Apprentice minimum wage (£4.30 an hour until the end of March 2022 and £4.81 from 1st April 2022).

If the apprenticeship lasts for longer than a year, the apprentice will be paid at least the National Minimum Wage for their age after the first 12 months of the role has been completed. You can find the latest minimum pay rates here.

Apprentices also don’t have to pay for their training, as this cost is covered by the employer or shared with the government.

Some employers choose to pay more than the legally required minimum to apprentices.

Who might an apprenticeship be suitable for?

An apprenticeship might be suitable for someone who wants to start working and earning at the same time as gaining a relevant qualification at no cost to them. As there are different levels of apprenticeship, suitable for people at different stages of their career or working life, it can be a good option for school leavers, those who want a change of career at any age, existing employees who wish to gain a qualification alongside work or those who want to start working while continuing to learn but instead of going to university.

Deciding between apprenticeship vs internship

Making a decision over whether to do an apprenticeship or an internship will come down to your preference and what you want to gain from it. If you want to gain a qualification and follow a structured and established programme while you’re working, an apprenticeship is likely to be the most suitable option.

If you want to gain some practical work experience on a shorter-term basis, don’t want the qualification or are not eligible for an apprenticeship (for example, if you already have equivalent qualifications in the same area), an internship might be more suited to you.


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