Industry Insights

What are the Differences Between an Internship and an Apprenticeship?

August 21, 2019

Both internships and apprenticeships allow you to experience hands-on training in your chosen field, but they are actually quite different. Let’s look at some key differences:


What is an internship?

An internship is work experience for a specific, and limited, period of time. It is usually offered by an employer for students or undergraduates. This work-experience provides exposure to a typical working environment within a specific industry. As educational programs become increasingly competitive, internships allow students to take initiative and set themselves apart in their field.

Paid vs. Unpaid Internships:

While internships can be paid or unpaid, labour laws have been specifically designed to accommodate for unpaid internship situations (for example the employment standards act, or ESA, does not apply to individuals who preform work that is under a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology, a university, or a registered private career college).

. Because there is a set time period that an intern is working for a company, there are regulations that must be followed.

Types of Internships?

There are many types of internships including:

  • Paid internships – Standard organization-based intern programs
  • Internships for credit – An internship that is deemed as qualified by an academic sponsor
  • Non-profit internships – Unpaid services generally provided by schools, government agencies, hospitals, etc.
  • Summer internships – Good for lightening course loads during the school year because it takes place in the summer
  • Service learning – Completing some type of community service work
  • Co-operative education – A combination of structured classroom-based education with work experience
  • Externship – Shorter form of internship, approximately a day to a week, that acts as more of a shadowing process


What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship, especially in what’s deemed a compulsory trade (different from province to province, but you can click here for Ontario), is registered through the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) with what’s called a Registered Training Agreement (RTA). All apprentices with an RTA, in compulsory and voluntary trades, are required to be registered with the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) in the Apprentices Class for the duration of their apprenticeship.

An apprenticeship combines your workplace learning with in-class lessons. These lessons are to support your current knowledge based on your work experience, as well as introduce you to the next level of skills. For most trades, you may work for a year before you’re offered a seat for the in-class portion of your apprenticeship, normally eight to 12 weeks (called “block learning” and is considered full-time. Part-time options do exist as well). It takes anywhere from two to five years to complete an apprenticeship.

Credentials of an apprenticeship?

An employer may require a high school diploma, or class certifications, before making the decision to hire an apprentice. Apprentices need to complete the required hours of work, required competencies and their in-class training levels, as well as pass the exam at the end of their apprenticeship (based on the province/territory and trade of apprentice).

What industries are apprenticeship heavy?

While many industries have the apprenticeship model, the following are the most common:

  • Trades, Construction
  • Culinary
  • Information and Technology Services
  • Agriculture

What is the difference between an internship and an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are longer than internships – for example, a short summer internship compared to the years it takes to complete an apprenticeship. While internships are easier to access and provide a brief understanding into a student’s chosen field, an apprenticeship is an on-the-job training and employment program that will provide you with real-world exposure to your chosen field. It is a way to, “Earn while you learn,” all while gaining the necessary skills to succeed in your profession. Apprenticeships are not the same as internships in that they are a Ministry-funded program and must adhere to the laws that bind within the Apprenticeship Act (click here for the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, 2009). Employers, sponsors, and apprentices, within the apprenticeship system, need to be registered with the government.

Most internships are done to expose students to the work culture and expectations, while an apprenticeship is regulated, and allows the apprentice the ability for a solid foundation to start working in their career.

Qualifications: Internship vs. Apprenticeship

Once an internship is finished, there are only a few scenarios that can occur afterwards.

The company can choose to keep the intern by hiring them. The intern can use the opportunity to continue with their studies and/or career, saving the network connections they earned, and being able to add this experience to their resume.

An apprentice must complete all competencies, hours and in-school levels, as outlined by their apprenticeship training standard, in order to continue their employment. The more competencies an apprentice gains, the likelier they will stand out, and be hired in such a competitive industry during their apprenticeship years. It is very common for the employer to hire an apprentice on full-time because of the significant time investment and relationship that is built. Once the apprentice finishes all the required hours (school and on-the-job) and competencies, they will be required to write their Certification of Qualification (CofQ) in order to continue working within their scope of practice. This CofQ is akin to a final exam and acts as proof to the ministry that the individual has the foundation needed in order to be safe and knowledgeable in their chosen career. 

How starting an apprenticeship is different than starting a job?

An apprenticeship is your first step into your career but is still considered a “learning pathway.” Apprentices have the benefit of classroom instructors who are skilled and experienced in their industry and get paid in the process! Please visit our page on How to Become an Apprentice to get started.

Support Ontario Youth is available to help you navigate the apprenticeship pathway, and we can support you through the process. Contact us to learn how we can help you start your apprenticeship journey.

What are the Differences Between an Internship and an Apprenticeship?

Related Topics: Apprenticeship Opportunities

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