A Brief History of the Apprenticeship

Apprentices trace back in the United Kingdom as far as the Middle Ages, where they originated from upper class parents sending their children away to live with host families in order to learn medieval crafts. By the Tudor period, numbers apprenticeships were seen as an acceptable form of training, despite over numbers being low.

The first official national apprenticeship system was brought into the UK by the Statute of Artificers in 1563. This was very similar to minimum apprenticeship standards used today. However, this was repealed some 250 years later due to a decrease in apprenticeship popularity. This was partly down to bad working conditions in factories.

However, apprenticeships continued to remain popular in certain professions, as well as spreading to newer industries like engineering, plumbing and electrical work. In any year in the 1900’s, estimations believe there to have been around 350,000 apprenticeships. This growth of apprenticeships continued after the World Wars, with a third of all young men leaving school to become apprentices by the 1960’s. At the time, this was a peak for apprenticeships. It then entered a slow yet steady decline, with half as many people in apprenticeship schemes in 1995 as there once was in 1979.

1993 saw the start of ‘modern apprenticeships’. Those enrolled in a modern apprenticeship were counted as employees and paid a basic wage. It also included a written agreement between the employer and apprentice, focusing on what qualification the student would receive rather than how long they would be an apprentice for. Qualifications would be an NVQ Level 3 qualification, which is the equivalent to A-Levels today.

Shortly after the introduction of modern apprenticeships, national traineeships were announced. Equivalent to GCSE’s rather than A Levels, these were intended to work as a progression route into apprenticeships for those who weren’t quite ready to enter a level 3 program.

Almost 250,000 people were enrolled in a Modern apprenticeship by the end of 1998. The most popular industries were business, engineering and retail. Most employers were small, start-up businesses with five or less apprentices.

Apprenticeship schemes haven’t changed much since modern apprenticeships were first introduced, apart from a few rebrands, name changes and the overview of minimum standards. After the election in 2010, higher apprenticeships were introduced as an equivalent to a foundation degree. Financial incentive payments were also available for smaller firms who hired apprentices between the age of 16 and 24.

Minimum standards were changed in 2012 which required all apprenticeship schemes to last at least one year, as well as providing 30 hours of employment per week with guided learning. Employers are also required to offer Maths and English training to those who haven’t previously gained a GCSE in these subjects.

In 2012, the number of apprenticeships in the United Kingdom was around half a million, which has remained steady throughout the years.

If you’re interested in an engineering apprenticeship, we can help. Here at GET we offer courses and apprenticeships in mechanical, electrical, maintenance, welding and fabrication. For more information, get in touch with the GET team by visiting our contact page or by giving us a call on 01452 423461.