Apprenticeships Toolkit


The need for skilled workers continues to rise faster than the current supply of workers in the United States job market. Weaknesses in skill level also affect businesses’ ability to recruit and retain a productive workforce. This issue has a greater impact on populations who are already at a disadvantage in obtaining employment, such as individuals from minority backgrounds, people with disabilities, and women.


These concerns for more skilled workers should lead to a renewed interest in the use of apprenticeships and paid internships as a means of developing and supplying the growing U.S. workforce.  

People with disabilities often face barriers to employment, due to employer biases, attitudes about disability, perceived level of skill, employability skills, and misinformation. Paid work experiences, such as internships, pre-apprenticeships, and apprenticeships, are effective “earn to learn” models for training skilled workers, including those with disabilities.


What is an internship?

Internships are typically established for students to gain work experience while attending high school or college. They are work-based educational experiences, which relate to specific professions or jobs and can be paid or unpaid.

A 2015 report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers identified a positive correlation between having an internship and getting a full-time job, especially an internship that offered compensation.

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are a combination of on-the-job-training and instruction related to the field in which the apprenticeship takes place, teaching skills that are concrete and theoretical.

In 1937, the National Apprenticeship Act was established by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to ensure that all apprenticeships met quality standards and were made available with training and technical assistance to employers who wished to implement these programs. There are over 375,000 registered apprenticeships administered by the DOL, a small number compared to other nations such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Switzerland.

Apprenticeships can be registered or unregistered. Registered Apprenticeships are governed by the DOL’s Office of Apprenticeships (OA) and State Apprenticeship Agencies, which have guidelines and training requirements for employers seeking to develop apprenticeship programs. Registered Apprenticeships focus on structured learning and on-the-job training (Registered Apprenticeship - findings from site visit).

A key aspect of Registered Apprenticeships is that the employer and apprentice are under contractual obligation to each other. This arrangement 1) helps clarify expectations, 2) promotes fair treatment, and 3) provides support for the apprentice to progress to a qualified worker in that given field (Lerman, Eyster and Chambers, 2009).

Unregistered apprenticeships are established by individual companies that are not certified as registered under the guidelines of the DOL OA. They provide the same structured learning and on-the-job training as Registered Apprenticeships.

The apprenticeship model has shown to be an ideal training option for workers throughout the history of the United States, with origins in the trades such as plumbing, electrical, and carpentry. In recent years, its application has expanded beyond the trades into a broader range of occupations. An apprenticeship can be sponsored by an individual employer or employer associations, some of which partner with labor unions. To date, the apprenticeship model is severely underused.

What is a pre-apprenticeship?

Pre-apprenticeships prepare an individual to enter and succeed in an apprenticeship program, as well as to explore career options. Pre-apprenticeships differ from apprenticeships in that they include basic introductory information about the job for which an apprenticeship is possible, and offer entry-level education and skills training related to the job.

Webinar View the ExploreVR webinar, Pre-apprenticeship Programs: A Model for Skill-Enhancement with Strong Employment Connections to learn more about how pre-apprenticeship programs are being implemented in states across the nation, helping individuals enhance their skills and secure employment in a range of industries.

Benefits of internships, pre-apprenticeships, and apprenticeships

  • Apprenticeships are beneficial to both workers and employers as they have the potential to:
    • Increase workers’ wages
    • Increase workers’ skill levels and productivity
    • Improve employers’ bottom line and productivity
    • Reduce employee turnover
    • Create industry-driven positions
    • Offer companies tax credits
  • Apprenticeships and internships create more employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
    • Registered Apprenticeships and internships provide options for accountability between the employer and the employee through contractual obligation. This arrangement helps clarify expectations, promote fair treatment, and provide support for the apprentice to become a qualified worker in that field.
  • Apprenticeships provide options for worker’s compensation coverage for employees, as well as a source for employee stipends.
  • Individuals with disabilities who participate in an internship or apprenticeship are more likely to develop:
    • skills to work effectively with supervisors and co-workers,
    • skills for success in specific job tasks,
    • knowledge of their career interests, and
    • knowledge about accommodations.
  • During an internship experience, students learn work values and ethics, observe positive and professional work environments, and build communication skills and other skills that will help them compete effectively in the job market. ​