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  • Writer's pictureThe Parents' Guide to

A brief history of apprenticeships

Apprenticeships date back as far as the 14th century and were closely related to medieval trades of the time. Skilled artisans taught their craft to apprentices who, eventually, became masters themselves and employed their own apprentices.


Early apprenticeships were not regulated; parents paid a master craftsman to teach their child a skill and the child was legally bound to the master for the duration of the apprenticeship which usually lasted six to eight years. Children started work when they were around 10-12 years old and the master was expected to provide moral guidance as well as food and shelter.


In 1563, during the time of Elizabeth I, a more formal system was introduced to prevent crafts being practised by non-skilled workers including some terms and conditions of work for apprenticeships. In the following centuries, the rights and entitlements of the apprentice gradually improved and, by the mid-17th century, some apprentices started to receive a small wage for their work.

Mid to late 1900s

By the 1960s, a large number of initiatives were introduced to modernise the traditional apprenticeship. Industrial Training Boards were set up to improve and monitor the delivery and quality of apprenticeship training schemes. Despite such efforts, by the 1980s and 1990s, apprenticeship recruitment slowed. This was largely attributed to the decline in manufacturing and crafts-based industries and the increased accessibility to further education.

Recent developments

Since then, successive governments have continued to reform and modernise apprenticeships to reflect the demands of a changing economy. For example, in 2015, degree apprenticeships were introduced offering a credible alternative to university education. This enabled apprentices to obtain a degree qualification on the successful completion of their apprenticeship. In 2018, over 210,000 students successfully completed an apprenticeship with 7,000 completing the degree apprenticeship – only three years after its introduction in 2015.

Keep an open mind

Apprenticeships may have been around for centuries, but there have been significant changes in recent years. Historically, apprenticeships supported trade careers such as carpentry, building and needlework, without offering a route into professional careers such as law, accountancy and management. In addition, earlier apprenticeships didn’t provide the opportunity of obtaining higher qualifications such as degrees or masters. This has now changed.

However, despite such significant chang­es, there are still some misconceptions and preconceived ideas. Keep in mind that apprenticeships are available across a wide range of industries, can provide a route into professional occupations and, with the introduction of degree appren­ticeships, offer a credible alternative to university. Degree apprenticeships have also created routes into jobs which previously could only be entered by obtaining a degree through university, such as nursing.

For more information on apprenticeships and why they might be a first-rate option for your child, take a look at The Parents’ Guide to Apprenticeships


We always love to hear from you, so do let us know if there are any subjects you’d like us to chat to you about. Stay safe and keep happy, Vanessa and Darius -


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