Apprenticeship or internship?

There are many accounting apprenticeships and internships available within the accountancy profession. Learn about the benefits of each.


'An apprenticeship is a really valuable route into employment – you get a salary, you are working towards a nationally recognised qualification, getting real-world experience and hopefully a great job at the end of it. And there’s no university fees, and no three years with no work experience,' says Spencer Mehlman, former founder and director of, a site that showcases career paths away from the university route, and now founder and MD of the National Skills Agency.

'Don't get me wrong – university is valuable, but young people need to think very carefully about their chosen route and its consequences.'


One way of helping to decide your career path without committing too soon are internships and work experience. Internships are a great chance to get first-hand experience of a career before deciding which path you'd like to take, while also looking good on a CV. But they're not to be confused with apprenticeships – an internship is a means to gain experience and improve your chances of securing employment, while an apprenticeship is a commitment.

'An internship is a good vehicle for young people to gain hopefully meaningful work experience,' says Mehlman. 'It strengthens your CV and allows you to sample a career path without any major commitment. Many young people who impress their employer at this stage really do get considered for roles when the right opportunity arises.'

It's worth remembering that an internship is often unpaid and is no guarantee of future work, so these also need to be chosen carefully and you need to have a clear idea of what you want to get out of it. Consider the skills you're interested in, the questions you want to ask the professionals you'll work alongside and the types of people you'd like to connect with.

Choosing what's right for you

'There is no one size fits all,' says Mehlman. 'Apprenticeships and internships sit in most sectors, and there will be something to suit most people. An apprenticeship is a real commitment to the business, with a plan and an end goal, while an internship really is a short taster session to get a real feel for a company or sector.'

One can lead to the other, however they are different options, says Mehlman. 'An apprenticeship is paid and will last for a minimum of 12 months, while an internship is often unpaid, short-term and leads to no qualifications.'

Fortunately, for those interested in accounting and finance, there are many accounting apprenticeships, work experience and internships available due the nature of the function within business – every company needs an accountant. It's also a profession that is viewed as stable and that doesn't suffer from external influences in the same way that many other professions do, so jobs are safer and more secure.

In the UK

ACCA is part of the Trailblazer apprenticeship that will offer a non-university route for those wanting to be a professional accountant and work in business. 

After a 12-month ACCA apprenticeship, you'll have passed the first three ACCA papers and you'll be considered capable to work in roles such as assistant accountant, accounts manager, credit control clerk or purchase sales/ledger clerk, while also continuing your ACCA studies to unlock further earning potential.

'More and more big employers are shrinking their graduate programmes and investing more heavily into apprenticeships and school leaver schemes, which means more variety and more opportunity,' says Mehlman. 'There is already a battle for talented people, so this demand will only grow and it puts you in a great position to grab the apprenticeship and go for it.'

desktop monitor showing training and learning icons

Making the most of an apprenticeship or internship

'To make the most of an apprenticeship, find a subject or path you really feel some passion for,' says Mehlman. Remember that to progress in any role, you need to show determination, hard work and have a great attitude. Talk to your more senior colleagues – there will be loads to learn and explore.'

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