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Apprenticeship and Internships: Why Employers Should Consider Both as a Means to Strategic Workforce Development

Employers often ask, what is the difference between an internship and a registered apprenticeship, and why consider the latter? It’s a good question and one that’s deserving of careful consideration. 

The short answer is, that apprenticeship offers many advantages that traditional internships don’t. For this reason alone, apprenticeships are worthy of further evaluation as tech employers ponder new avenues to build the workforce of the future. It is important to note that apprenticeship isn’t intended to completely replace traditional methods of sourcing talent, such as higher education, boot camps, and referrals. Rather, it is meant to be a complementary pathway that provides employers access to high-quality candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences. As the first nationally registered tech apprenticeship program of its kind, Apprenti is well-versed in recruiting, vetting, and training qualified, diverse candidates who integrate seamlessly into an employer’s workforce. 

Internship vs. Apprenticeship

Against the backdrop of a persistent digital skills shortage and the growing importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, tech employers are finding it necessary to evolve their recruiting and hiring practices beyond traditional talent acquisition pathways. Although there is undisputed value in hiring recent college graduates, U.S. higher education institutions produce just 75,000 graduates with digital skills degrees each year—not nearly the number of candidates required to meet the demand for the hundreds of thousands of domestically available tech jobs. Other sources, such as H-1B visas to hire qualified talent from overseas, and poaching from competitors, are even more limited and potentially costly.

In addition, the labor market is more competitive than it’s been in several years. While that’s nothing new for the tech sector, companies in all industries are struggling to recruit quality talent. As a result, many are looking to hire interns to boost their entry-level pipelines. Across all industries, companies are planning to hire 22.6% more interns during the 2021-22 academic year than the previous year. That’s a noteworthy difference from 2020-21 when companies cut back their intern headcount by 0.5%.

Cost-conscious tech employers may be tempted to follow this trend and onboard interns as a way to fill skills gaps in their workforce. While there is merit to relying on internships as a temporary hiring solution, there are also potential drawbacks:

  • Generally, internships are a short-term arrangement. Interns often remain with an employer for summer or several months right after college before returning to school or moving on to a full-time or permanent role. They may learn four things over one month or one thing over four months.
  • Internship programs typically lack structure, so interns don’t really have an opportunity to gain comprehensive knowledge or experience in the short time they spend with a company. Each intern may experience or learn different things.
  • Interns tend to be in an “exploratory” phase in their careers, and as such, may or may not be interested in their role, or want to remain with the company that hired them. They may treat the internship as a “taste test,” and be less “sticky” than full-time hires or apprentices. Nonetheless, interns get the chance to gain experience in a trade or at a company for a short period of time and discover what they want and don’t want to do.
  • Companies typically aren’t always able to capture the same level of rapid innovation from internships alone. Often trained in specific ways by higher education institutions, interns bring skill sets and ways of thinking that reflect current or past methods of accomplishing specific tasks and roles. They do not necessarily come to the table with the latest knowledge and capacity to think several years down the road to meet a company’s future needs. 

On the other hand, a registered apprenticeship offers distinct advantages. By leveraging a workforce development program like Apprenti, employers reap several benefits:

  • The average age of apprentices in the Apprenti program is 32. That means employers are able to onboard individuals who already have work experience and an aptitude for flexibility, ingenuity, and adaptability in the workplace. 
  • Apprentices are pursuing a career in the role they’re being trained for, which gives employers an opportunity to develop an individual who is truly invested. Retention rates are higher, too—on average, 91% of apprentices are retained.
  • Apprenticeships provide thoughtful, structured classroom and on-the-job training, which means apprentices gain specific skills employers need when they need them, including knowledge of proprietary software and equipment. The average length of an apprenticeship in information technology (IT) or cyber-centric roles is a year, so tech employers also have a chance to make sure the apprentice is a good fit with their culture before deciding to retain them.
  • Workers developed through a registered apprenticeship program are purposefully groomed to think long-term about a company’s needs so they can learn the skills necessary and be poised to fill those requirements from day one. This enables companies to evolve and innovate that much faster—a must in the tech industry’s fast-paced, ever-changing environment.
  • 85% of Apprenti recruits are from underrepresented groups, such as women, people of color, veterans, and people with disabilities, allowing companies to tap into a ready-made, diverse talent pool. Research shows that a diverse workforce contributes to better business performance, including improved profitability, productivity, recruiting, and employee satisfaction. 

Registered apprenticeship is a proven model in other industries, such as aerospace and advanced manufacturing, that has enabled companies to vastly improve their profitability and ramp up their long-term sustainability and scalability. And it’s a model that translates well to the tech industry, which is one of the many reasons why it makes sense for employers to consider adopting apprenticeships now. “Apprenticeship is an effective way to bring in new fresh ideas, not just in terms of diversity, but because apprentices are learning real skills in real-time,” says Andrea Anderson, Sr. Director of Program Development and Education, Apprenti. “Once they gain an understanding from their mentors of where the company is at currently, it’s been our experience that apprentices often leverage their technical and on-the-job training to come up with new ways to innovate and help our hiring partners expand their capabilities and offerings beyond present-day scenarios.”

Stemming the Gray Tsunami

Even in tech, where the workforce traditionally skews younger, there is an older, more experienced population that will eventually retire, leaving an obvious knowledge gap. Between  February and November 2020, the number of retired Baby Boomers increased by 1.1 million. Previously, the number of retired Boomers had grown by about 2 million annually since 2011. This phenomenon, known as the “gray tsunami,” will continue as older workers retire in growing numbers in the coming years.

Apprenticeship provides an opportunity to stem this gray tidal wave by giving employers a pathway to strategically and consistently create a younger, more sustainable workforce. “Bringing in 10 to 25 apprentices every six months spreads the transfer of knowledge from experienced workers to new workers in such a way that it isn’t such a huge burden on employers,” Andrea noted. “It means the more experienced employees aren’t having to train, say, 100 new recruits at a time. Having a consistent apprenticeship program makes it so the process becomes ingrained in the company’s culture and innovation, and employers are able to develop a workforce with a broad range of skills and experience at every level.”

Apprenticeship Is One of Many Workforce Development Options

Embracing apprenticeship as a pathway to workforce development is not as challenging as employers might perceive. Nor does it preclude more traditional methods of hiring, such as recruiting from colleges and universities, boot camps, or relying on word-of-mouth referrals. Apprenticeship opens doorways to a much wider, more diverse swath of the population, allowing candidates to pursue higher-paying opportunities that may not have otherwise been accessible to them. 

“Apprenticeship is one of a menu of options available to employers to meet their long-term workforce needs,” Andrea noted. “Registered apprenticeship is an effective model for employers to access untapped talent—it’s by no means meant to completely replace existing hiring pathways.”

To learn more about Apprenti and our Registered Apprenticeship program and how it may help meet your company’s workforce development needs, visit https://apprenticareers.org/hire/, or contact us directly for more information on hiring.

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