Apprentice or intern: What's the difference?

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It’s popularly inferred that an intern’s role revolves around coffee runs and paper pushing. But would you expect an apprentice to do the same?

Is there enough difference between these two words to adamantly note a distinction?

We think so.

At Experience Institute, we’ve created a new model for learning and skill acquisition that utilizes apprenticeships and projects by which students design their own higher education.

But, as our students reach out to companies for apprenticing opportunities, they are often referred to as interns.

We think that the difference in terms not only informs the identity of our students, but also influences how co-workers view them once they land in the company or project.

Here are a few distinctions we’ve come to recognize between an apprentice and an intern:

(Note: These are based on observations we’ve made while seeing our students placed in industries ranging from design and architecture firms to lead roles in creative agencies and the education field.)

  1. Responsibility: Apprentices are entrusted with responsibilities that can shape a company. Interns roles are far more varied and can range from one day a week of light work to full-fledged management.
  2. Intent: Apprentices are seeking knowledge and understanding of a specific skill or trade from an identified expert within a company with the possibility of working for that company someday. Their apprenticeship experience is their classroom. Interns are often exploring and/or fulfilling required credits as a stepping stone to someplace else.
  3. Role: Depending on the trade and/or industry, apprentices may take on roles of project lead or manager. Interns are often the ones being led or managed.
  4. Time: Apprenticeships are often entirely focused on the company/project on a full-time basis; anywhere from 3-12 months at 40hrs/wk. Internships have much more variance and can range from a once/week experience to full-time work. Apprentices see a project and/or product through from start to finish. Interns usually work within one aspect of the process.
  5. Exchange: Apprentices often receive an exchange for their work (stipend, hourly wage, and/or other such resources). While the “exchange” for interns can be difficult to define and quantify, as experience and/or credit is often considered payment.

Again, the lines between apprentice and intern overlap at times. Neither title is fully defined. Overall, we feel the title of “apprentice” entails a greater level of commitment, responsibility, and exchange than internships provide. In turn, it’s a more central part of a learner’s journey and a more formative part of their future.

After graduating, our founding students speak of their apprenticeships with pride as they move into roles within great companies and start ventures of their own. Here are a couple examples of how our Ei students defined their role as apprentice with three different companies over the course of a year:

April Soetarman designed her year of apprenticeships around design, architecture and project management.

Joe Burgum worked alongside creatives in theater production, architecture firms and digital agencies.