Internships and Apprenticeships

What Are Internships and Apprenticeships?

An internship is a short-term work experience designed to help a person learn about a job, field, company, or industry. Nearly all industries and many businesses offer some form of internship. Internships are intended to provide an educational experience related to career goals, so they are primarily held by college and vocational students and recent graduates. Many degree programs and vocational training programs require an internship as part of a student's course of study. Internships provide a real-world bridge between higher education and a career.

An apprenticeship also serves an educational purpose. Apprenticeships typically last from one to six years and train participants in skilled jobs, primarily in the trade, manufacturing, and craft industries. Also known as dual-training programs, apprenticeships usually combine some classroom experience with extensive on-the-job training. There are thousands of formal apprenticeship programs, which are typically sponsored by individual businesses or employer associations. Successfully completing an apprenticeship prepares and certifies an individual for starting a career in his or her chosen field.

What Are the Types and Characteristics of Internships?

Internships may be found in a wide variety of fields, including media, banking, finance, social services, advertising, public relations, the arts, and politics. Many businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government entities offer internships. The most common and best-known type of internship is the college internship, which can take place over a summer, a semester, or a full year.

Interns and apprentices often have mentors who supervise their work and offer valuable onthe-job instruction.

Interns and apprentices often have mentors who supervise their work and offer valuable onthe-job instruction. THOMAS KOEHLER/PHOTOTHEK/GETTY IMAGES.

In the early twenty-first century, a more diverse group has been using internships. High school students have begun to take internships to prepare for college and their eventual career path. Another increasingly common type is the midcareer internship, through which a professional can acquire experience and contacts in a different field. People considering a career change often seek a midcareer internship in order to gain firsthand knowledge about a potential new profession.

Although the nature of an internship varies by industry and profession, internships are generally supervised, either by the employer or a representative of student's school, such as a professor or internship coordinator. Internships are often in step with coursework and designed to reinforce academic theory with real-life experience. Internships can be focused on special projects, provide a sample of activities in the many aspects of the employer's business, or consist of a concentrated activity in a specific department or discipline.

What Are the Types and Characteristics of Apprenticeships?

Formal apprenticeship programs are sponsored by businesses or employer associations, and they are usually registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, the federal agency responsible for regulating issues pertaining to the U.S. workforce, although there are also unregistered programs offered by companies, unions, and professional associations. The best-known apprenticeships are in the building trades and manufacturing industry. However, firefighters, chefs, telecommunications technicians, actors, auto mechanics, practical nurses, hairstylists, electricians, and computer programmers are examples of people who can acquire their training via apprenticeships. In seven U.S. states, an aspiring lawyer can forgo law school, either partly or completely, and prepare for the bar exam by serving in an apprenticeship at a law firm.

The Battle over Unpaid Internships

Generations of American college students have accepted unpaid internships as a rite of passage—a way to develop important career skills and networking contacts before entering the workforce. A growing movement, however, is raising questions about the legality of many unpaid internships. Federal legislation stipulates that unpaid internships must meet specific requirements, which were set out in the 1947 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Walling v. Portland Terminal Company. The defining characteristic of an unpaid internship, according to the court, is that the intern must be working for personal advantage and not for the benefit of the employer offering the internship. Additionally, the training received through an internship must be similar to training a student might receive in a classroom or other educational setting; the intern position cannot be instead of an existing paid position; the intern's work must be closely supervised; both the employer and the intern must understand that the position is unpaid; and the intern must not be guaranteed a paid position with the employer after the internship is completed.

Critics of the practice argue that many unpaid internships do not meet these stipulations. They claim that unpaid interns frequently do work that financially benefits the companies for which they work, often with little of the requisite training and supervision, and that their labor allows employers to avoid hiring paid workers to complete the same tasks. Opponents of unpaid internships also contend that many employers are taking advantage of high rates of unemployment among recent graduates to get free labor from educated workers. People in favor of unpaid internships argue that, while there are abuses within some internship programs, they are the exception rather than the rule. According to proponents, unpaid internships provide an important source of on-the-job experience that helps graduates transition into paid employment.

The plumbing profession offers what could be considered a typical trade-industry apprenticeship. Would-be plumbers may enter apprenticeship programs beginning at the age of 18, after they have earned a high school diploma. Apprenticeships are sponsored by unions or local contractor organizations. They last from four to five years and include both on-the-job training and about 150 hours of classroom instruction per year.

In terms of labor, an apprentice in the plumbing trade begins as a plumber's helper and performs small tasks. The apprentice's responsibilities are gradually increased as he or she learns more and gains experience. Although an aspiring plumber can receive some training at a trade school, completing an apprenticeship is required in order to become a licensed plumber.

What Are the Advantages of Internships?

Internships and Apprenticeships

A major benefit of an internship is the chance to gain real-life employment experience that reinforces what you have learned in the classroom. This experience can be added to your résumé and increase your future job prospects. An internship can help you decide if a career path is right for you. Not only can you see firsthand what a job is like without making a long-term commitment, but also the people with whom you work can provide guidance about your potential career choice. You can also gain familiarity with a specific company or business to determine if it is a good fit for you and your employment goals.

Internships and Apprenticeships

Résumé: A document providing a detailed description of a person's previous work experience, educational background, and relevant job skills.

Because there are many internships available in most professions and industries, and because the positions are only filled temporarily, it is relatively easy to get an internship. Internships often include compensation of some kind, including payment, college credit, or both. In some fields, such as graphic design and journalism, an internship is an opportunity to create work samples for your portfolio, which you can then present to potential employers.

Internships can provide you with a way to begin building your professional reputation. They may lead to work and networking contacts and sometimes even to an offer of a permanent position. Many employers use internships as a means of sorting through a pool of potential future employees. Thus, an internship can be an audition for a fulltime job. Even if you do not get a job through your internship, you can receive valuable feedback that will help you in your job search.

What Are the Advantages of Apprenticeships?

Internships and Apprenticeships

Like internships, apprenticeships offer real-world, on-the-job experience. Apprentices are paid for their work, and they do not pay for their education. Any coursework they take focuses solely on their trade. Apprentices who complete formal apprenticeship programs registered with the U.S. Department of Labor receive certificates of completion that are recognized by employers throughout the country.

Skilled trades are among the top occupations offering registered apprenticeships.

Skilled trades are among the top occupations offering registered apprenticeships. ILLUSTRATION BY LUMINA DATAMATICS LTD. © 2015 CENGAGE LEARNING®. U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. “Top 10 Occupations for Fiscal Year 2013,” Registered Apprenticeship National Results, Fiscal Year 2013.

What Are the Disadvantages of Internships and Apprenticeships?

Although some internships include payment compensation, many are unpaid and held for only a brief duration. Some companies use interns to do menial work that does not provide much training, information, or exposure to the greater business or field. For example, some interns are tasked with fetching coffee, handling mailings, filing documents, and completing tedious office tasks. Some employers regard interns as free sources of labor and do not assign them useful tasks that improve skills or knowledge.

Apprenticeships also have a few drawbacks. Some apprenticeships are quite competitive to enter. You could apply for an apprenticeship and be placed on a wait list, so it might take time to start the apprenticeship. While waiting for a spot to become available, you will have to find employment elsewhere.

There is no guarantee of a job after you complete an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships also require a long-term commitment. If the career path proves to be not the one you want and you leave your apprenticeship early, you may feel as though you have wasted your time.

What Kind of Experience Can I Gain through an Internship or Apprenticeship?

Both internships and apprenticeships introduce you to a workplace environment. An apprenticeship will give you thorough hands-on experience in your chosen profession. Internships are shorter and less intense but ideally will allow you to get some degree of hands-on experience. Through both types of program you can learn professional social, communication, critical-thinking, and other work-related skills.

An internship is especially valuable in helping you decide if you want to pursue a particular career. Many students complete more than one internship. This can be beneficial, because being exposed to several work environments can give you a clearer idea about which type is best suited to your personality and career goals. You can also gain confidence by exploring what you want to do in a variety of professional settings.

Where Can I Find Internships and Apprenticeships?

Internships and Apprenticeships

There are many sources for finding internships. In addition to consulting college career centers, academic departments, and local libraries, you can look on company and job board websites, draw on personal contacts, and approach professionals you know who are already working in the field. There are a number of websites dedicated to internships, such as Internship Programs ( ), which lists internships in many fields and offers related advice. Another site, Idealist ( ), posts internships available at nonprofit and community organizations.

You can find information about all types of apprenticeships at the career-counseling offices of high schools and trade schools as well as through trade unions and professional associations. There are many company-sponsored apprenticeships, which you can learn about through trade groups; online job boards, such as Monster ( ); and company websites. Some apprenticeships are cooperative efforts between secondary schools and companies, and apprenticeships are often coordinated through trade associations.

Internships and Apprenticeships

Various federal, state, and local job services list apprenticeships, both registered and unregistered. The U.S. Department of Labor maintains a dedicated Registered Apprenticeship website ( ), which provides information about apprenticeships as well as a list of currently available occupations in the Registered Apprenticeship program. The website My Next Move offers an interactive tool ( ) listing all careers with Registered Apprenticeships, along with useful information on each career, including job outlook, salary information, and required skills and education.

How Do I Prepare for an Internship or Apprenticeship?

In many ways, finding and applying for an internship or apprenticeship is similar to a job search. You should plan to fill out applications, and you should compile a job history, a résumé, and a list of references. Most internships and apprenticeships include an interview process, and you should prepare for that as well. Many companies have created an internship plan. If possible, obtain the plan to determine if the company's internship program meets your needs and goals. Also be aware that some companies use interns as a free labor source and that certain actions on the part of the employer can be in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act . As an intern, you are not an employee and should not be treated like one.

Internships and Apprenticeships

Fair Labor Standards Act: U.S. federal legislation that protects workers from unfair labor practices including unequal pay, excessive work hours, lack of overtime compensation, and unsafe working conditions. Also called FLSA.

When pursuing an apprenticeship, know the requirements before applying. For most apprenticeships, you usually must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED). In addition to filling out forms, you may need to undergo aptitude or proficiency testing for some apprenticeships. Depending on the program, these qualifying exams will measure reading, math, and problem-solving skills. Sometimes you must also pass a physical-condition test. Not everyone who applies to an apprenticeship program will be accepted, and some aspiring apprentices will be placed on a wait list, especially for popular apprenticeship programs.