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Training & Apprenticeship History

A bit of history of training and apprenticeships from the 1950's:

The training of skilled workers has always been vital to a country's efficiency. In earlier days in England the Craft Guilds were responsible for this training, and it took the form of a long period of apprenticeship during which a boy who wished to learn a trade was 'bound' to an employer who was a master of it. The fact that the master took the apprentice in to live as one of his own family led to this kind of apprenticeship being called 'domestic'. In former days an apprentice became a journeyman when he had finished his training.

Queen Elizabeth tightened up the earlier rules concerning apprenticeship, which were beginning to be disregarded in some trades as the craft guilds declined. One of the Acts of Parliament made in her reign, the Statute of Apprentices of 1563, laid down a period of seven years' training between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four as the rule for all trades, and made the local justices of the peace responsible for administering the Act. As new industries arose during the industrial revolution and the guilds continued to lose their influence, the Justices applied the Act of 1563 only to crafts named in it or being practised when it was passed, and apprenticeship began to lose ground. When industry was expanding still further and becoming mechanized in the early 19th century, many of the old apprenticeship rules were thought to be a hindrance to enterprise, and in 1814 Parliament passed an Act abolishing the more important parts of the Act of 1563.

The Industrial Revolution and the Act of 1814 did not destroy apprenticeship as an institution, but changed its nature. Apprentices were still admitted to various trades, but they lived in their own homes and no longer in those of the masters responsible for them. By the beginning of the 20th century the decline of hand craftsmanship and the rise of big mechanized industries, had reduced the number of trades in which employers thought apprenticeship necessary. The skilled trade unions, however, considered the continuance of apprenticeship to be in their own interests, as it helped them to insist on a reasonable wage-gap between the skilled and the unskilled worker. But during the First World War apprenticeship fell to a very low ebb, and in fact there was little formal training of tradesmen at all. There was far more work to be done than people to do it, and in the engineering and allied industries turning out munitions of war the 'dilution' of skilled labour by unskilled had to be accepted. The wages of unskilled workers rose considerably, and boys and young men preferred to earn immediately a full wage as an unskilled worker rather than to bind themselves to a long period of training at mere pocket-money wages. At the end of the war the Government realized that this situation was against the country's interests, and, in consultation with many of the leading trade unions, they took vigorous action. As a result, about 100,000 young unskilled workers were reclaimed as apprentices. Government training grants, supplementing the low wages of apprentices, encouraged this movement. The Second World War created much the same kind of situation, and it was met in the same way, by increasing training and maintenance grants.

Apprenticeship is still an important feature of British industry, although in many branches it has become an arrangement by word of mouth, and not by a written contract. In earlier days a formal agreement in writing was invariably made between the apprentice's parent or guardian and the employer. Such agreements were called 'indentures', and had to be completed before a magistrate. Indentured apprenticeship survives nowadays mainly in trades where skill with the hands is still essential: for example, it survives in the various branches of the building industry, in bespoke tailoring, the fur trade, ship repairing, surgical and scientific instrument making, studio photography, cabinet-making, the jewellery and precious metals trades, saddlery and harness-making, printing, coopering or cask making, hairdressing, and many of the branches of engineering. Many of these trades take on 'learners' under a merely spoken agreement, as well as indentured apprentices. In most trades the original period of seven years' apprenticeship has been reduced to five, and training now runs from the ages of sixteen to twenty-one. To serve one's apprenticeship is 'to serve one's time', and when the period of apprenticeship is over one is said to be 'out of one's time'. Apprentices out of their time have not yet acquired the skill of experienced tradesmen, and they usually spend some time in their trade as 'improvers'. In some trades a distinction is made between the different classes of apprentices. This is particularly true of engineering, which recognizes two distinct classes of apprentice: the 'pupil' apprentice who will eventually be a trained engineer (in the sense of a professional man who makes plans for others to carry out), and the 'trade' apprentice who will become a skilled artificer (that is, a mechanic, often highly skilled, who carries out the designs). The 'trainee' system of informal apprenticeship, for those whose educational and other qualifications are likely to fit them for executive rank in industry, is a modern form of the pupil apprentice system. Sea apprentices, or cadets, are really in the pupil apprentice class, as they are destined to be executive 'deck officers' when out of their time. Apprenticeship has always been a vigorous growth in the Merchant Navy, and in 1950 the British India Steam Navigation Company sent to sea the Chindwara, specially fitted out as a training ship for thirty cadets.

A form of apprenticeship is necessary before entry into many professions, notably the law, accountancy, and the architects' and surveyors' professions, but the agreements entered into are called 'articles' and not 'indentures'.

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