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If you're looking for the TV show, see The Apprentice.

Apprenticeships form a traditional method of training a new generation of skilled crafts practitioners. Apprentices (or in early modern usage "prentices") built their careers from apprenticeships.

The system of apprenticeship first developed in the later Middle Ages and came to be supervised by guilds and town governments. A master craftsman was entitled to employ young people as an inexpensive form of labour in exchange for providing formal training in the craft. Most apprentices were males, but female apprentices can be found in a number of crafts associated with embroidery, silk-weaving etc. Apprentices were young (usually about fourteen to twenty-one years of age), unmarried and would live in the master craftsman's household. Most apprentices aspired to becoming master craftsmen themselves on completion of their contract (usually a term of seven years), but some would spend time as a journeyman and a significant proportion would never acquire their own workshop. In early modern England 'parish' apprenticeships under the Poor Law came to be used as a way of providing for poor children of both sexes alongside the regular system of apprenticeships, which tended to provide for boys from slightly more affluent backgrounds.

Subsequently governmental regulation and the licensing of polytechnics and their ilk formalised and bureaucratised the details of apprenticeship.

Universities still echo apprenticeship schemes in their production of scholars: bachelors are promoted to masters and then produce a thesis under the oversight of a supervisor before the corporate body of the university recognises the reaching of the standard of a doctorate. The modern concept of internship is also analogous.


United Kingdom

Although apprenticeship has a long tradition in the United Kingdom's education system, the system slowly became less and less important, reaching its lowest point in the 1970s. By that time, training programmes were rare and people who were apprentices learnt mainly by example. In 1986, National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) were introduced, in an attempt to revitalise vocational training. Still, by 1990, apprenticeship took up only two-thirds of one percent of total employment.

In 1995, the government introduced Modern Apprenticeships (the name was changed back to Apprenticeships in 2004), again to try to improve the image of apprenticeships and encourage young people to take them up. Work was begun on developing a more regulated system, defining frameworks for apprenticeships (such as Business Administration or Accounting) and linking them to particular qualifications and certificates. Those who complete an Advanced Apprenticeship (previously known as an Advanced Modern Apprenticeship) receive National Vocational Qualifications, a technical certificate and an apprenticeship certificate (2005). There are more than 160 (2005) frameworks from four sectors: Personnel, Advice and Guidance, Health and Safety, and Learning and Development. Young people learn core skills rather than concrete subjects or abilities; employers have an employment contract with the apprentices, and at the same time, independent companies offer them formal education. There is no minimum time requirement, although the average time spent completing an apprenticeship is roughly 21 months.

By 2001, it was found that the new scheme was less than successful. The number of young people taking up work-based learning had not risen, and many young people and employers were still unaware of exactly what an apprenticeship involved. Changes recommended by a Modern Apprenticeship Advisory Council in 2001 also seemed to have little effect: between 2000 and 2003, the number of people starting apprenticeships fell from 76,800 to 47,300. In 2001, just over one fifth of young people under age 22 took up an apprenticeship: of these, only 33% actually completed it, making approximately 7% of young British people under 22 who have completed an apprenticeship.


Apprenticeships are part of Germany's successful dual education system, and as such form an integral part of many people's working life. Young people can learn one of 356 (2005) apprenticeship occupations (Ausbildungsberufe), such as Doctor's Assistant, Dispensing Optician or Oven builder. The dual system means that apprentices spend most of their time in companies and the rest in formal education. Usually, they work for three to four days a week in the company and then spend one or two days at vocational school (Berufsschule). These Berufsschulen have been part of the education system since the 19th century.

In 1969, a law (the Berufsausbildungsgesetz) was passed which regulated and unified the vocational training system and codified the shared responsability of the state, the unions, associations and chambers of trade and industry. The dual system was successful in both parts of divided Germany: in the GDR, three quarters of the working population had completed apprenticeships.

Although the rigid training system of the GDR, linked to the huge collective combines, did not survive reunification, the system remains popular in modern Germany: in 2001, two thirds of young people aged under 22 began an apprenticeship, and 78% of them completed it, meaning that approximately 51% of all young people under 22 have completed an apprenticeship. One in three companies offered apprenticeships in 2003; in 2004 the government signed a pledge with industrial unions that all companies must take on apprentices.

The precise skills and theory taught on apprenticeships are strictly regulated, meaning that everyone who has, for example, had an apprenticeship as an Industriekaufmann (someone who works in an industrial company as a personnel assistant or accountant, etc) has learned the same skills and had the same courses in procurement and stocking up, cost and activity accounting, staffing, accounting procedures, production, profit and loss accounting and various other subjects. The employer is responsible for the entire programme; apprentices are not allowed to be employed and have only an apprenticeship contract. The time taken is also regulated; each occupation learnt takes a different time, but the average is 35 months. People who have not taken this apprenticeship are not allowed to call themselves an Industriekaufmann; the same is true for all the 356 occupations.


In France, apprenticeships also developed between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, with guilds structured around apprentices, journeymen and master craftsmen, continuing in this way until 1791, when the guilds were suppressed.

In 1851 the first law on apprenticeships came into force. From 1919, young people had to take 150 hours of theory and general lessons in their subject a year. This minimum training time rose to 360 hours a year in 1961, then 400 in 1986.

The first training centres for apprentices (centres de formation d'apprentis, CFAs) appeared in 1961, and in 1971 apprenticeships were legally made part of professional training. In 1986 the age limit for beginning an apprenticeship was raised from 20 to 25. From 1987 the range of qualifications achieveable through an apprenticeship was widened to include the brevet professionnel (certificate of vocational aptitude), the bac professionnel (vocational baccalaureat diploma), the brevet de technicien supérieur(advanced technician's certificate), engineering diplomas and more.

On January 18 2005, President Jacques Chirac announced the introduction of a law on a programme for social cohesion comprising the three pillars of employment, housing and equal opportunities. The French government pledged to further develop apprenticeship as a path to success at school and to employment, based on its success: in 2005, 80% of young French people entered employment after completing an apprenticeship. The plan aimed to raise the number of apprentices from 365,000 in 2005 to 500,000 in 2009. To achieve this aim, the government is, for example, granting tax relief for companies when they take on apprentices. (Since 1925 a tax has been levied to pay for apprenticeships.) The minister in charge of the campaign, Jean-Louis Borloo, also hoped to improve the image of apprenticeships with an information campaign, as they are often connected with academic failure at school and an ability to grasp only practical skills and not theory.

See also

Further reading

  • Modern Apprenticeships: the way to work, The Report of the Modern Apprenticeship Advisory Committee, 2001 [1] (
  • Apprenticeship in the British "Training Market", Paul Ryan and Lorna Unwin, University of Cambridge and University of Leicester, 2001 [2] (
  • Creating a ‘Modern Apprenticeship’: a critique of the UK’s multi-sector, social inclusion approach Alison Fuller and Lorna Unwin, 2003 (pdf) (
  • Apprenticeship systems in England and Germany: decline and survival. Thomas Deissinger in: Towards a history of vocational education and training (VET) in Europe in a comparative perspective, 2002 (pdf) (
  • European vocational training systems: the theoretical context of historical development. Wolf-Dietrich Greinert, 2002 in Towards a history of vocational education and training (VET) in Europe in a comparative perspective. (pdf) (
  • Apprenticeships in the UK- their design, development and implementation, Miranda E Pye, Keith C Pye, Dr Emma Wisby, Sector Skills Development Agency, 2004 (pdf) (
  • L’apprentissage a changé, c’est le moment d’y penser !, Ministère de l’emploi, du travail et de la cohésion sociale, 2005

External links

de:Duale Ausbildung it:Training aziendale nl:Middelbaar beroepsonderwijs


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