What is the Difference Between an Apprentice and an Intern?

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An apprentice devotes their time to skills development, working with external trainers and experts to enhance their abilities, and funnels what they learn back into your company. 

An intern on the other hand, absorbs skills from your company to take elsewhere when their internship ends. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each type of role.

Key points:

  • Interns offer short-term support with lightweight, non-critical work, but because there isn’t usually a contract, the relationship can be flighty
  • Apprentices offer longevity, quality, skill and at various ability levels.
  • Apprentices are developing their professional abilities, so they can contribute to their workplace and secure a career path. Their aspirations directly benefit their colleagues and organisation.

An apprentice devotes their time to skills development and funnels what they learn back into your company. An intern absorbs skills from your company to take elsewhere. Key points:

  • Interns offer short-term support with lightweight, non-critical work, but because there isn’t usually a contract, the relationship can be flighty
  • Apprentices offer longevity, quality, skill and at various ability levels.
  • Apprentices are developing their professional abilities, so they can contribute to their workplace and secure a career path. Their aspirations directly benefit their colleagues and organisation.

What do employers need to know about apprentices?

Interns and apprentices have different needs and intentions, and employers have distinct obligations to both types of worker. Apprentices have a formal arrangement with their employers. They can be weight-bearing and relied upon. They are stable mechanisms in the wider machine. New call-to-action


An apprentice can be any age.


They can be entry-level or at the top of their game. They might have plenty of existing skills relevant to your workplace, or none at all. It depends on the level of the apprenticeship and the age of the candidate.


Apprentices must be paid at least minimum wage.

Employment contract and hours

Apprentices are employees. They must be employed for at least the duration of their qualifications. They can be part-time or full-time, but their hours are cemented and agreed in an employment contract.


Every apprenticeship has a different duration. Entry levels tend to take 12 months, whereas an advanced apprenticeship will take 24 months or more. The number of study hours are outlined from the outset. There are no surprises and you can plan study time together.  Employers will usually allocate one day a week for study, but it depends on the needs of your apprentice and the business needs.  

Duties and Responsibilities

Apprentices have a job title and job description, with responsibilities and accountability. They also take on mandatory Essential Skills Wales qualifications to prove their english, maths and IT abilities, as well as learning about four key apprenticeship themes – cultureglobal citizenshipequality and diversity and safeguarding and prevent. The challenge is balancing all of this with their job, plus time for studying and assignments. Read our guide to managing apprenticeships if you want tips for balancing their time.


Apprentices have the same rights as any other employee, including paid annual leave.

Career path

At the end of the apprenticeship programme, your qualified apprentice will expect to command a higher salary in a more senior role. You need to have a progression plan for them if you want them to stay.

What do employers need to know about interns?

Interns are with you for work experience. In comparison to apprentices, they have no personal investment in your company or formal commitment from you. New call-to-action


Just like an apprentice, an intern can be young or old. They’re an intern because they’re inexperienced in an industry they want to progress into. An opportunity with you is their starting point. They can build up their CV and gain evidence of relevancy, ready for their first recognised job.


Interns are always entry-level. If they want to work in fashion, for example, they can make a garment but have never worked in a professional sewing room, to deadlines and with the needs of clients in mind. It’s the environmental inexperience that they’re seeking education in.


Interns are usually on a low wage or receive no pay at all, but that’s not a universal rule. Although interns are usually in your organisation to get exposure and absorb your expertise, whether they’re paid or not depends on the employer. They do not have a right to pay, because they are not employed. But, if they are inexperienced, you should always make it clear that an internship is unpaid if there is no possibility of monetary return for their time.

Employment contract and hours

It’s not common for interns to have contracts. It’s more likely they’ll have an informal verbal or written agreement with you. That means it can be broken lawfully at any time. Some larger employers will have established internship programmes where the intern will expect to be employed for a year or more and in that case, they may have a contract, set hours and pay. The intern’s hours are arranged informally, but there are determining factors at play, like the availability of your team to instruct and manage the interns, plus whether the intern is available when you need them.


Unlike apprentices, interns aren’t obliged to do any studying, exams or assessments. There is no qualification at stake. At the end of the process, they’ll hopefully walk away with enough experience to get a paid position and a glowing recommendation from you, but they won’t have accreditation from an independent awarding body.

Duties and Responsibilities

If you’re advertising for an internship with a title and job description, the intern has a specific function to fulfil. But if the intern is joining you for days or weeks-long shadowing, they shouldn’t be delegated responsibilities or accountabilities. It’s work experience.


If your intern doesn’t have a contract, they are not an employee. They won’t have paid annual leave, or receive the benefits that other employees do.

Career path

At the end of the internship, your intern would be ready to enter the workplace in a junior or entry-level role, with defined responsibilities and duties. Interns are prone to flightiness if they don’t feel valued, and asking them to stay unpaid for long periods with no progression plan, or incentives is a raw deal. The fairest approach to win their commitment is to harness and safeguard their enthusiasm. If a talented and hardworking intern enters the workplace and makes a difference, hire them.

Shared qualities

Both interns and apprentices are universally excited about their future careers. Both avenues into the workplace promise hope – they want a good job at the end of the process. It might be with you, or at another company. At the end of the process, both the individual and company should be enriched from the experience.

  • An intern has gained workplace exposure and the ability to progress
  • An apprentice has workplace exposure, vocational and skills-based qualifications, and the ability to progress
  • The employer has benefited from the enthusiasm of the intern, or the gained skills and commitment of the apprentice

Which is the best investment, apprentices or interns?

If you’re weighing up whether you should hire an apprentice, or bring an intern on board, you need to look closely at what the needs of the business are. If you need short-term support with lightweight, non-critical work, an intern might be your best option. If you’re recruiting for longevity, quality, skill, at various ability levels, that’s where an apprentice would shine.

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7 reasons for hiring an apprentice

Long-term, apprentices contribute directly to the performance of your company. They bring:

  • New skills
  • Fresh perspectives
  • Driven, curious and committed qualities
  • Responsibility and accountability
  • Funding – in some cases, the recruitment costs are government-funded, which takes the pressure off your hiring budget
  • Brand warmth and awareness – giving people opportunities is a great news story for your company
  • An excellent differentiator and comparable when weighing up the service your people offer versus your competitor’s

What might dissuade you is managing the apprenticeship and dealing with the consequences of failure. Would the apprentice lose their job if they failed the qualification? What gap would that leave on the workforce?

Rest assured, good training providers that offer apprenticeships will help you at every step and drive you towards success, so it’s not all on your shoulders. Just make sure you have the time, resource and experience in house to manage the apprentice’s usual workload and keep them focused on their personal goals.

When is an intern the best choice?

Interns might be right for your teams if they’re struggling to manage tasks that have no direct impact on their performance:

  • Data processing and hygiene
  • Organising meetings and appointments
  • Notetaking
  • Admin, filing, or post runs
  • Organising information and data ready for projects

Interns can be given other roles and responsibilities if they prove their abilities and trustworthiness. The tasks you give to an intern must be appropriate to their experience level. If your team are too busy to do business-critical work, an intern is not the answer. They won’t have the know-how to do an acceptable job, which will cause friction and frustration, not to mention affect the quality of your work. New call-to-action

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Richard Hywood
Richard is TSW Training Apprenticeships’ Employer and Community Engagement Manager. His articles will help your business prepare for and manage apprentices.
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