Extern vs Intern: which provides value to your business?

Find out how externships and internships help businesses – and an even better option for those looking to grow.

August 2, 2022

Externship and internship programs have been educational staples for many decades – but that doesn’t mean they’re working. Learn more about an extern vs intern and a better option for businesses wanting to extract value from such programs.

What is an externship?

An externship is a training program offered by a university or business that gives individuals a condensed educational experience in a particular field. In other words, it's a short-term, unpaid opportunity where a student job shadows a career of their interest. Sometimes, externs will shadow a specific person in particular, especially if that person is well-respected in their industry. 

The definition of an extern depends on the terms the business sets for the externship. An extern may shadow an organization for one to eight weeks. It's also a popular option for students who want to focus on career development during their winter break.

Externship responsibilities might include:

  • Observing and networking with professionals
  • Taking a tour of company facilities
  • Conducting informational interviews to gain knowledge
  • Sitting in on staff meetings

Some examples of externships include:

  • An engineering student who spends a week learning essential job functions at a local manufacturing plant.
  • A public relations student who visits a PR firm for a month to observe the unveiling of a big campaign.
  • A culinary management student who spends a weekend at a restaurant observing operations.

Do externs get paid?

The number one question students often ask is - do you get paid for an externship? The answer is – rarely. Since students aren't required to perform any actual work, they're not paid. 

What's an internship?

An internship is a paid or voluntary position within an organization that also can satisfy college credit. An internship provides surface-level learning and is usually geared toward undergraduate students. Internships allow students to explore their careers of interest hands-on and make connections for their future. 

How long do internships last? It depends but usually spans an academic semester. 

Internship responsibilities may include:

  • Administrative tasks
  • Project-based work
  • Making industry connections
  • Taking part in staff meetings

Paid internship vs job

Not all internships are paid, but even paid internships aren't officially jobs. Interns are generally compensated less than employees. 

Externship vs internship - what are the differences?

An externship is almost like an informational interview for students to learn about a specific career path. In contrast, internships are supposed to be utilized as hands-on learning experiences for students. 

Extern vs Intern: are they valuable for your business?

As a business owner, you may be thinking – how can this help me? Since externships are typically short-term engagements, they don't necessarily impact your bottom line. Internships might sound like they'd be valuable for your business because you can utilize free or inexpensive labor. Not only is that unethical, but it's also not true. 

Most internship programs are poorly executed and do not get the desired result: skilled entry-level employees. In fact, only 56% of interns get hired full-time after they complete an internship, according to Compare Camp. Why is this so?

Part of the reason is that most interns are assigned the company's most menial administrative tasks. They don't actually learn the skills necessary to perform a job and therefore aren't qualified to work there after graduation. Though you don't have to necessarily pay an intern (but you should), you're still spending time and money to design internship programs. All things considered, the ROI is pretty bleak. 

Internship skill level

Since the overwhelming majority of internships derive from college programs, your pick of interns is limited to who could afford to go to college. More money doesn't equal more skill, so the value an intern brings to your organization might be nominal.

Intern and extern – hire apprentices instead. 

What is an apprenticeship? An apprenticeship is a structured training program providing on-the-job learning and coursework designed so individuals can meet the needs of highly-skilled jobs. They're also paid on a wage schedule until they graduate from the program, which has guidelines set by the employers.

Why do apprentices provide more value for your business?

They diversify your talent pool.

Where externs and interns are hired based on credentials and connections, apprenticeships are based on talent and skill. They’re a path of opportunity for women, people of color, and people with disabilities. It's truly the easiest way to walk the walk on DEI.

They contribute to the sustainability of your organization.

Apprentices are much more likely to stay put after completing their program because they want to work for a company that is invested in their growth. They also have undergone rigorous training relevant to your organization – so why jump ship now?

They allow you to take advantage of federal grant money.

Unlike internships, you don't have to pay out of pocket for apprenticeship training if you don't want to. If you federally register your apprenticeship, your organization can be eligible for grants that offset the program's cost and employment. Depending on the industry, it ranges from $5-$15k per apprentice.

The bottom line

While internship and externship programs are often cobbled together under poor oversight, apprenticeship structures benefit workers and businesses alike. Learn more about how Apprentix helps businesses like yours structure programs in minutes.

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