Published 06.03.2021

Christopher Ray

by Christopher Ray

Executive Director, Business Development


There are many “ships” in the workforce world – internship, externship, returnship, pre-apprenticeship. So how does apprenticeship stack up in this crowded lineup, and more importantly what differentiates it?

Simply put, apprenticeships focus on existing workers while the others do not, but the differences don’t stop there.

A common misperception of companies exploring apprenticeships as part of a skills gap strategy, is the application of training to potential vs. existing employees. A source of this confusion lies in the fact that the other “ships” are linked to recruitment, whereas apprenticeship is a skill improvement program.

To better understand the difference, consider the key attributes:

  • Internship – typically filled by students, often fulfills a graduation or qualification requirement, lasts eight to 14 weeks, meant to sample a job
  • Externship – shorter in duration – days to a couple weeks, only observation rather than doing the job, rarely involves pay
  • Returnship – similar in structure to internship, meant for those who have been out of the workforce for an extended period, designed to sharpen skills that may have become rusty and introduce newer technologies
  • Pre-apprenticeship – intended to build the pool of future workers who will ultimately work in apprenticeable occupations, basic skill development for the not-yet or unemployed
  • Apprenticeship – usually a two- to four-year program, combines on-the-job and classroom instruction, occupation-specific training

Remember that apprenticeships are occupation-based for employed persons. They combine a well-structured, robust training platform that significantly increases the skills of a company’s workforce. When skills-gap challenges create turbulent seas, it’s the one ship built to keep companies from sinking.