Digital Marketing Intern or Digital Marketing Apprentice?

Like many businesses, we created an internship to help aspiring marketers get on-the-job experience.  And we helped launch people into digital marketing careers. Yay! But was that enough? Becoming a B Corp inspired us to think about addressing systemic problems. Could we use learn-on-the-job roles to improve diversity in our agency, in our industry, and improve equity in society? Yes, with a registered apprenticeship, rather than an internship program.

A Journey From Internship to Apprenticeship

When Two Octobers was about 10 people, we started regularly hiring interns. We wanted to give a helping hand to young people thinking of a marketing career. So we recruited marketing majors from local colleges and paid them hourly wages. We had new interns every 6-12 months who started with fairly basic work. Sometimes they grew into real practitioners, and we hired them when they graduated. Other times, they moved on to other jobs. It was a successful initiative, and we liked having interns around.

We gradually realized that we were doing a fair bit of digital marketing training to both interns and recent college graduates who we hired in entry-level roles. College marketing education has an emphasis on research and theory; our day-to-day includes a lot of lever-pulling, deconstruction, and analysis–none of which college prepared them to do. 

At the same time, we were trying to figure out how we could increase diversity in recruiting. We made small changes, like introducing name-blinded resumes to reduce bias in the process and posting on “diversity” job posting sites. But in reality, the marketing and advertising field isn’t very diverse–it doesn’t reflect the diversity of US society as a whole. Even if we succeed at hiring more diverse candidates, we aren’t contributing to marketing and advertising being more diverse–and in fact we’re just competing with other agencies for a too-small pool of talent. 

Our solution: creating a registered digital marketing apprenticeship. An apprenticeship combines education and paid work experience in a longer-term relationship that develops new career paths. A registered apprenticeship (registered with the U. S. Department of Labor) ensures the program includes progressive wage increases and education that qualifies for college credit, and results in a nationally-registered credential at the end. You may be more familiar with apprenticeship in technical fields and trades, but Two Octobers’ digital marketing apprenticeship is one of a small (but growing) number  of white-collar, professional apprenticeship programs.

Comparison: Interns vs. Apprentices 

Aren’t interns and apprentices basically the same thing? No. Here are some of the key differences:

InternshipRegistered Apprenticeship
Time of employmentShort-term. Usually tied to the school year, designed to be 1 or 2 semesters.Several years, varies  depending on progression through required skills & education
PrerequisitesCollege enrollment, usuallyNo formal education
Opportunity for continued employment at companySometimesGenerally
PayFree, if tied to education (but this is increasingly thought of as exploitative)HourlyHourly, with upgrades tied to skills achievement
Promotes diversityNot by designYes, through recruitment practices which partner with workforce development centers, technical schools, and community colleges.
CredentialsnoneNationally-recognized credential upon completion
TrainingMay or may not be providedClassroom and on-the-job training is built into the program

While an internship provides job experience in their field, an apprenticeship program provides new openings to marketing careers. Apprenticeship is a longer-term relationship combining classroom instruction, on-the-job training, and a regular salary.

Apprenticeship Benefits to Employers

As an employer, hiring an intern can feel like a win-win. You get an employee to do low-level tasks and get more work done. They’re getting on-the-job experience which will help them understand the field better, and find their dream job after graduation. 

But apprenticeship offers deeper benefits for employers, as well as for society at large. By running an in-house training program, you’re building the exact skills you need for quality, productive employees. A business hires marketers to connect with all potential and current customers, but homogenous marketing teams are mostly good at connecting with people like them. By seeking talent outside the typical recruiting venues, you’re increasing the diversity of your team. Apprenticeship offers a different pathway to staffing up in a challenging recruiting market. And indirect benefits to employers include improved morale that comes from employees training junior staff.

We launched our digital marketing apprenticeship program two years ago, and have supported two apprentices to date. We’ve learned a lot during that time, but the best thing we’ve learned is how fulfilling it is to expand our team, share our knowledge, and invest in a more diverse and inclusive future for the marketing industry.

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