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The History Of Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships in the UK have been an important part of life for many centuries. The UK system of apprenticeship dates back to around the 12th century. By the 14th century, it was a major part of the educational system for teaching young children employment skills. However, apprenticeships nearly disappeared completely in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite the passage of time and numerous changes, the apprenticeship system is still in use in the UK today. The system still provides a way for young people to acquire the employment skills they need for survival in the 21st century.

Middle Ages apprentices

During the Middle Ages, apprenticeships were supervised by town governments and craft guilds. A guild’s master craftsman was permitted to use children as an inexpensive form of labour. The parent or guardian of a minor would pay a premium to the craftsman, who would then provide food, lodging, and formal training in the chosen craft. The contract would be recorded in an indenture, and then the child would be bound to serve the craftsman for 5-9 years. However, the average term was for seven years.

Apprenticeships were usually arranged for children between 10-15 years of age. Most of the youths were males, although there were some female apprentices found in crafts such as cordwainer, baker, and seamstress. Although most apprentices hoped to become master craftsman upon completion of their contracts, a large portion never acquired their own workshops.


There have been many milestones during the system’s development throughout the centuries. Some of these milestones are:

Statue of Artificers and Apprentices

Established in 1563, this set out terms and conditions for training and for the master-apprentice relationship. It set a minimum of seven-year duration terms and regulated the working conditions. It also controlled the environment and conduct of apprentices during their leisure time. It also established that no one should be allowed to work in a craft without first undergoing an apprenticeship.

Elizabethan Poor Law

Established in 1601, this law created parish apprenticeships alongside of the regular apprenticeships. Most of the regular ones tended to provide for boys from affluent backgrounds. The parish apprenticeships, which were created by two assenting Justices of the Peace, were used for poor, illegitimate, and orphaned children of both sexes. The parish apprentices were used for farm labour, menial household service, brick making, and other occupations of lower status.

Health and Morals of Apprentices Act

Established in 1802, this Act provided for 12-hour working days and required factory apprentices to be taught reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Repeal of 1563 Statute

Established in 1814, this statute made it legal to practice crafts without undergoing an apprenticeship first. It also removed the requirement of a seven-year minimum duration.

Industrial Training Act of 1964

This Act was established due to fears that Britain’s training system was not meeting economical and technological development and other industrial needs adequately. It gave the Minister of Labour statutory power to create Industrial Training Boards utilising representatives from both sides of industry. These Boards were responsible for overseeing training in each specific industry, establishing minimum standards, and providing advice to firms in their industries. It also created a levy/grant system which paid allowances to trainees financed through a compulsory levy on firms in these industries.

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs)

NVQs were introduced in 1986 as an attempt to revitalize vocational training and the apprentice system.

Modern Apprenticeship models

Developed in 1993 and fully-established by 1995, the Modern Apprenticeships are based on frameworks that contain a number of separately-certified elements. These elements are: knowledge-based, competence-based, and key skills-based. The frameworks also include an element known as Employment Rights and Responsibilities (ERR). ERR is not a certified element. ERR merely demonstrates that the apprentice has a full awareness of the company, training programme, and the essential rights and responsibilities related to the workplace. Modern Apprenticeships have been renamed to Apprenticeships in England, North Ireland, and Wales, and the frameworks are devised by the Sector Skills Councils. However, Scotland still uses the term Modern Apprenticeship and the frameworks must be approved by the Modern Apprenticeship Group. The primary difference between the 1960-1970 apprenticeships and the Modern Apprenticeships is that the Modern Apprenticeships focused more on occupational competency while the early models focused more on specific technical learning.

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning (ASCL) Act

Established as law in 2009, the majority of ASCL Act provisions are now in force. As of April 13, 2011, a statutory nationally-designed certificate of apprenticeship completion will be issued to people finishing their apprenticeships. The apprentices must apply for the certificate though. The ASCL Act basically restructures parts of the apprenticeship, educational, and training systems in the UK by transferring responsibilities for various obligations from one government agency to another. It dissolves some agencies and creates others. The ASCL Act is intended to improve the education, training, working conditions, and general welfare of children and their families. The current apprenticeships are mostly for youths 16-18 years of age, although there are some for people who are 19 or older.

One of the new agencies that have been created by the ASCL Act is the National Apprenticeship Service. This agency is responsible for overseeing and delivering Employer Services, Learner Services, and Apprenticeship Vacancies. Apprenticeship Vacancies is a web-based vacancy matching system that enables people to seek and apply for the apprenticeships that employers and their training providers are advertising online.

The apprenticeship system is presently making a healthy comeback into the UK’s educational and work environments. As of the 2009/10 academic year, there were 279,700 apprenticeships started in England. There were 239,900 started in 2008/09. There has also been a large increase in the number of people completing their apprenticeships in the past few years. The government intends to keep apprenticeships in the UK by funding 75,000 more by 2014/15.