The Transition To Modern Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships can be traced back to the guild system used in the middle ages, which itself can be traced back to the “collegia” in Ancient Rome, and potentially as far back as Naram-Sin of Akkad around 2200 BC.

The old guild system consisted of artisans and masters of a particular craft, who would essentially adopt a young apprentice, give them food and shelter and teach them everything they need to know to be an artisan of a particular craft.

This does not just include the technical knowledge they need or provide experience in their field but also provide a more general education and teach them how to morally and socially carry themselves as a master of a particular craft, which most modern apprenticeship providers follow as well.

The system of standardised apprenticeships became law in 1863 with the Statute of Artificers, which mandated seven-year apprenticeships, required permission for an apprentice to transfer from one master to another, a master could not have more than three apprentices and set fixed wages.

This was the first state-controlled apprenticeship system, and whilst much of this would be repealed in 1813 as the industrial revolution meant that there were a lot more paths to work than through the apprenticeship system, they would remain popular and begin to grow again in the 1900s.

Another major shift, a second industrial revolution, and the impact of two world wars, a deadly influenza outbreak that killed between 25m and 50m people, and a major economic crash in the early part of the 20th century led to substantial growth in the number of apprentices.

However, the lack of major reforms since the days of George II in 1813, during which time eight more monarchs would take the throne, including the current Queen of the United Kingdom, meant that the system for taking apprentices did not fit the needs of either apprentices or employers.

By 1964, when the Industrial Training Act finally provided new legislation which improved the quality of training of apprentices and formalised training standards, courses and the quality of training, apprentices had primarily peaked.

However, a combination of a limited scope for apprenticeships, as well as the focus of these efforts being made in industries that were either experiencing temporary or long term decline, as well as some particularly harsh criticism by major industry figures led to these numbers falling again.

After a particularly difficult period for people wanting to learn a trade over the 1980s and early 1990s, a new radical reformation of the apprenticeship system, known as Modern Apprenticeship, was proposed in 1993 and would form the basis of the modern system we see to this day.

As qualifications had become more valuable in the workplace and as one of the biggest criticisms of the old apprenticeship system was the lack of transferable skills and certification in favour of time served, Modern Apprentices received an NVQ Level 3, the equivalent of two A-level passes.

National Traineeships (later renamed to Intermediate Apprenticeships) were introduced soon after, giving young people a progression route into a Modern Apprenticeship.

They became very popular as a result of a much wider scope, and the system has continued strongly to this day, shaped by new standards and legislation.