March 10

How is an apprenticeship different from an internship?


When it comes to a tech apprenticeship vs summer software engineering internships, an apprenticeship offers many more tangible benefits. For one, an apprenticeship provides on-the-job training, while internships typically do not. Apprenticeship is one of the many ways people are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STAR). This pattern is being used more and more to fill the skills gap in our economy and create STARs.

The goal of most internships is to give the participant a chance to gain some knowledge and understand how to apply knowledge previously gained (like coursework they have completed). There is nothing wrong with that per-se, but it presumes a candidate comes with most of the theory and knowledge required for a business and they just need some experience.

In a tech apprenticeship model, participants are learning how to learn and they gain valuable skills directly from seasoned industry software developers. Three months is not nearly enough time. Early professional mentorship can have a huge impact on accelerating learning.

Apprenticeship also allows employees to be trained in domain-specific skills and practices, which can be extremely beneficial in the tech industry or in any field that relies heavily on software. Companies gain access to a more experienced employee with by the end of an apprenticeship, generally not the case with an intern.

Additionally, an apprenticeship allows for a more gradual entry into the workforce. Instead of the high bar of acceptance into an exclusive internship, apprenticeship is more about meeting people where they are and providing a more optimized pathway to learn. Apprentices learn the skills needed for the job and build relationships, instead of years of theory before any practical use cases and mentorship.

For the HR team, an apprenticeship offers a faster pipeline of talent into the organization. In a highly competitive talent market, a summer internship can’t compete when competitors are launching apprenticeships. Lyft and Uber both have apprenticeships, which is not by accident.

The flexibility that comes with re-imagining the schedule of programs like internships and apprenticeships can make a huge impact on participants as well. By scheduling an internship and the selection process during one small window of time (typically around the summer), you place participants in a highly competitive race for more limited opportunities. You are asking many non-degreed folks to compete with individuals from predominantly white institutions of higher learning. Why not think about screening in with an apprenticeship vs screening out with an internship?

From a DEI perspective, when it comes to improving your diversity numbers: you are not connecting to your target demographic with an internship. If you want to reach more women, Black, and Latine talent at a minimum targeting community colleges and HBCUs would create a dramatic improvement in candidates. If you are expecting under-resourced individuals to have the privilege of working (paid) for 3 months during the summer and then “figuring out” what to do after your internship, that is a super-risky proposition. If you are expecting them to work at an internship for free, you need to stop doing that.

Typically something like 30% of interns are hired at the end of a summer program, whereas with apprenticeship conversion happens at closer to 95% employment. At Creating Coding Careers we’ve seen 100% placement of those that stick with the program. Let’s be real, people that are underrepresented in tech would be better off looking for a permanent role or apprenticeship than to speculate that an internship is going to result in long-term career prospects. This fact is not missed by many candidates.

Apprenticeship opportunities are typically open year-round or for multiple ongoing cycles. Instead of opening an internship window of opportunity up around the college summer break, an apprenticeship can be leveraged according to the business cycle. Talent and Engineering teams can maximize the runway to ramp up candidates and prepare them for a transition into the organization around actual product demand. Getting off the hamster wheel and using earn and learn to decouple talent pipelines from the summer months can create a more robust pipeline of talent into your organization when it is needed most.

Here are a few more great things about the apprenticeship pattern for those in the tech ecosystem:

  • Companies and apprentices mutually contribute to skill development and cultural competency.
  • Increase the number of participants that can afford to participate
  • An apprenticeship typically provides a much longer runway to gain experience and learn domain-relevant technical skills
  • Participants get higher quality mentorship and build stronger professional relationships
  • High performing engineering teams develop a stronger bond, they know this is not a transient experience

It all boils down to matching talent with opportunity. When you remove uncertainty participants can internalize that they have a future at the company, they trust that a company is willing to invest in them and a career path is a present, not just a future potential, opportunity.

From a simple program mechanics standpoint, we can do better than internships. Internships are not providing enough time to gain needed skills and an understanding of your business. Any quality software engineering program needs to be longer than 3 months, so an apprenticeship provides much more time to gain experience, and since it is paid, many more people that otherwise could not afford to reskill will have access to the opportunity. Businesses are going to be able to grow a whole new pipeline of talent where it may never exist with interns.

Organizations leading the way benefit by budgeting for and then creating capacity in your talent pipeline where your competitors may not. By investing further with apprenticeship patterns companies can target and land candidates that are scrappy, have growth mindsets, and have amazing resilience, but lack access to opportunity. These STARs are not going to thrive in an internship. Leveraging the corporation’s ability to invest for long-term success can be a huge strategic advantage in the current difficult labor market. The ROI of recruiting and training candidates in an apprenticeship is higher than the status quo summer internships. Especially given that apprenticeships have a low turnover rate.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at the success IBM, Microsoft, Lyft, and Google have had with earn and learn programs. They have programs that run anywhere from one to four years. Apprenticeship is like an internship on steroids, and I believe the smartest way to invest in onboarding talent. You could even do both, but don’t act like I didn’t tell you when you see better gains out of your apprenticeship.

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