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Is an Apprenticeship Equal to Work Experience?

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

The differences between apprenticeships and work experience matter for your career.

  • Apprenticeship offers a valuable way to gain experience while earning a wage in an organization.
  • Under regular supervision, an apprentice is assigned basic tasks in an organization.
  • Depending on the length of time the apprentice has worked in the company, they have varied levels of work experience.

One good way to get on-the-job training while sharpening your skills is through an apprenticeship. 

NECA Education & Careers, a member of the business.com community, asked, "Is an apprenticeship equal to work experience?" We spoke to some experts to determine exactly what an apprenticeship is, how it differs from work experience, and if the two are equal.

An apprenticeship, not to be confused with an internship, is a valuable experience that allows an individual to gain real-world work experience while also attending classes and earning a wage. Although apprenticeships are traditionally used in industries such as construction and manufacturing, information technology, programming, energy and other industries are adopting them as well.

Apprenticeships are usually lengthy, taking one to six years to complete. At the most basic level, an apprentice performs entry-level work and eventually hones their skills to become proficient at their craft or trade.

So, is an apprenticeship equivalent to work experience? Yes and no.

According to Nate Masterson, HR manager for Maple Holistics, it is similar to general work experience; however, it often provides more value to both the individual and the company. He said that, although apprentices are overseen by supervisors and cannot sign off on things, they typically have their own projects or tasks.

"An apprenticeship is similar to work experience, but they're not quite the same thing," Masterson told business.com. "It's perhaps more like an internship for a degree in higher education, as it involves actually doing real work while receiving regular supervision."

Defining an apprenticeship

On a basic one-to-one scale, an apprenticeship is typically seen as work experience – for example, one year of apprenticeship would be equivalent to one year of work experience. However, an apprenticeship provides a multitude of additional benefits for workers, since it includes on-the-job training and free education. The goal of an apprenticeship is to provide an individual industry- and role-specific training, in the hopes that the apprentice will be hired on as a full-time employee after they complete the program. 

Srajan Mishra, CEO of TSI Apparel, said that at its core, an apprenticeship is a period of training where one can learn an individual skill or develop a skill set in any field or industry in exchange for wages.

"There are several levels of apprenticeship, and one can grow from one level to the other," said Mishra. "At the most basic level, it usually lasts for about a year."

Pros and cons of an apprenticeship

The hands-on training the apprentice receives from a veteran professional is what Masterson sees as the major benefit. This personalized training can result in an individual becoming licensed in their trade and even potentially going into business on their own.

In addition to receiving valuable training and gaining work experience, Mishra said apprenticeships allow young workers to build confidence. As their skills develop, so will their confidence, which can boost career prospects later in life. These programs are also a great way for young workers to earn money while they learn, which can result in less stress and more time available to focus on their trade.

Although apprenticeships provide valuable education and experience, there are downsides as well. For example, the wages earned during apprenticeships are typically very low, sometimes too low to live on. Mishra said this can sometimes be resolved by going for higher levels of apprenticeship, but it can still be limited based on your industry and field of expertise.

In addition to a low income, Masterson said a disadvantage is being trained by a single individual. Although apprentices learn from masters of their trade, they typically learn from one individual instead of many different professionals. This limits the diversity and scope of training.

Individuals who benefit from an apprenticeship

Apprenticeships are generally taken on by young adults between the ages of 16 and 25. Mishra said it is important to note the differences between those who benefit from general work experience versus an apprenticeship.

"Work experience should be undertaken by college students who are just looking for a basic understanding of the professional world," he said. "An apprenticeship is a completely different route. It is more often suited to young people who do not want to go into full-time jobs or higher education but still want to gain extra qualifications."

Mishra went on to explain that an apprenticeship is specifically designed to expose the trainee to a specific job role, so it usually involves developing an understanding for that role more than anything else.

Industries that benefit from apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are not suitable for professions that require a minimum college degree – high-risk industries like the medical field, for example. Although apprenticeship industries used to be limited, more and more are accepting this as a viable education route today. These are some industries that accept apprenticeships:

  • Agriculture, environmental and animal care
  • Hospitality, administration and tourism
  • Accounting, banking and bookkeeping
  • Construction, carpentry and civil engineering
  • Manufacturing and machinery
  • Energy, electrical and engineering
  • Plumbing and heating
  • Industrial maintenance
  • Casting and molding
  • Advertising and marketing
  • Programming and information technology
  • Cosmetology
  • Real estate

Once you choose a career, look at the different paths available to achieve it. It might require college, an apprenticeship, general work experience or maybe a combination.

"The difference between whether an apprenticeship or work experience is more helpful generally has to do with the field," said Masterson. "So, essentially, it's about knowing the needs of your field and how to best get ahead."

Types of apprenticeship

AllAboutCareers.com lists the following types of apprenticeship:

  • Retail and commercial enterprise: Retail and commercial enterprise apprenticeship involves the development of extensive skills in customer service, gaining an understanding of the product and the brand, payment processing, and stock-level management. Types of apprenticeship included in this area are beauty and therapy, catering, fashion and textiles, and hospitality.
  • Engineering and manufacturing technology: Being an apprentice in this area gives you the right footing to be an engineer. Some of the areas covered are nuclear working, rail engineering, building services, and vehicle maintenance and repair.
  • Healthcare and social care: Health and social care apprentices help look after vulnerable members of the community, such as people with disabilities and young children. Services offered in this type of apprenticeship can include emergency care services, policing and fire emergency services.
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