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A history of apprenticeships pt1

1st Aug 2012
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To kick off apprenticeships month, James Flanagan gives us an overview of an ever-changing part of the L&D world.
Anyone undertaking an apprenticeship today can do so with both a sense of pride and gratitude. Apprenticeships have a long tradition that has stood the test of time and the terms and range of apprenticeships offered today make them a very enticing and rewarding option for any person beginning their work life. An apprentice from the past may not recognise the terms and conditions offered to current apprentices but they would see the learning that is gained and the greater opportunities that apprentices have.
'The Dictionary of Daily Wants' (1858-1859) defines an apprentice as a 'person who is bound by indenture to serve a master for a certain term, and receives in return for his services instruction in his master's profession, art, or occupation'. To source a definition from the middle of the last century may seem to be delving into the long distant past but Britain has an enduring history of apprenticeships, a longevity which gives witness to both their value and benefit throughout the ages. Their origins date back to the guilds of the Middle Ages; the system, however became more prescribed and regulated in 1563 when The Elizabethan Statute of Artificers set out terms and conditions and types of training offered. Over the following two centuries apprenticeships expanded with new legislation on working conditions, environment and the conduct of apprentices in their leisure time.
Another milestone of legislation was passed in 1802 – the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act, whose provisions included a 12-hour working day and a requirement that factory apprentices were taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, if an apprentice has taken their GCSEs within the last five years and didn't gain a top grade (A or A*), or doesn't have good GCSE grades in Maths and English he or she will need to take a literacy and numeracy test.
"Apprenticeships have a long tradition that has stood the test of time and the terms and range of apprenticeships offered today make them a very enticing and rewarding option for any person beginning their work life."
In 1814, the 1563 Statute was repealed and loosened statutory controls over apprenticeships removing the requirement for a minimum of seven years to be spent on one apprenticeship.
Legislation continued to improve the conditions of the apprentice. Although they were never as favourable as they are now there are some similarities between then and nowadays. Victorian apprentices and their masters were equally bound to perform their portion of the contract. If either the master or the apprentice were found wanting in their duties they were liable to be ordered before a judge to answer the complaint against them. The master was duty bound to impart his skills and the apprentice was bound to follow orders.
Divergences begin to appear when we look at other areas of the arrangement. Today, whilst there are still duties and responsibilities on both sides of the concord the conditions now offered to and enjoyed by the apprentice are far more favourable to him/her.
In the 19th Century, although a master could not legally compel his apprentice to work an unreasonable length of time, there was no specific duration marked out by law. The continual employment or abuse of an apprentice for more than twelve hours per was deemed unreasonable and compelling an apprentice to work on Sunday was illegal.
If an assignment was made of a trader's effects, i.e. if the master assigns his assets to a creditor to pay off a debt, the apprentice could form part of the assignment and was therefore bound to serve whoever he was transferred in exactly the same way as his original master. If, however, the master was declared bankrupt it was deemed to end the arrangement. If the master was in a partnership and the partnership was dissolved, the apprentice was bound to serve the remaining members of the firm, just as though the partnership remained intact. As the contract was deemed to be a personal one between master and servant, if the master died the apprenticeship ended. By a custom of London, if the master died, the apprentice was bound to continue his services to the widow, provided she carried on the same trade.
Apprenticeships could be cancelled by mutual consent. This was usually done by simply cutting off the names and seals of the parties in the original agreement and a memorandum was signed by parties showing their agreement to the cancelling of the agreement.
Part two will follow next week.
James Flanagan is training director of a consultancy specialising in positive leadership and has worked as a trainer and a management development consultant in a broad range of companies including IBM, Lilly, Harley Davidson, BUPA and UNICEF

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