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Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of skilled crafts practitioners. Most of the training is done on the job while working for an employer who helps the apprentices learn their trade. It involves a legal agreement as to the duration and conditions of the training. Often some informal, theoretical education is also involved. Apprenticeships are available all over the world in a variety of different fields. Internships are similar to apprenticeships, in that interns work in a temporary position for the training they receive by professionals in the field.

The Industrial Revolution led to major changes in the job market, and the long time required for apprenticeships became unpopular for those wishing to enter the workforce and begin earning wages. For those with academic interests and abilities, an apprenticeship was considered less attractive than receiving higher education at a college or university. Thus, apprenticeships became unpopular. However, the value of on the job training and practical education has become more recognized and many countries have developed programs to make apprenticeships in a variety of areas more attractive. Through such a revival, the skills and traditions of many crafts may be inherited by future generations as they were in the past, as well as those of the new skills and knowledge that has emerged in more recent times.


An apprentice is a person who works for a set time in order to learn a trade or profession in which someone who is already knowledgeable in the trade acts as the teacher.[1] The word developed from Latin around the fourteenth century, from the Latin root apprehendre which meant "someone learning."[2]

Apprenticeships differ from academic study, or schooling, in that each student learns directly by watching and working together with a master craftsman. It is thus a form of experiential learning; the practical training of a skill whose major components are not intellectual, although study may also be required. A key feature of apprenticeships is the passing on of the tradition of a craft, as the apprentice learns the way of life from the master artisan. In fact, it has been suggested that this type of "learning in likely places" is the key method of transmission of cultural values and social knowledge in some societies, such as Japan where traditions of art, craft, work, and community are transmitted through a variety of apprenticeship situations.[3]

While industrialization and urbanization have led many societies to develop educational systems that involve the classroom setting, apprenticeships are still favored in many traditional arts,[4][5] as well as culture-specific traditions such as the training of a shaman in Korea[6] or the Japanese tradition of Japanese gardening which was passed down from sensei to apprentice, in a rigorous apprenticeship that has remained unbroken since the fifteenth century.

Apprenticeships continue to be available worldwide in many different fields and areas of business including: administration, agriculture, construction, customer service, engineering, finance, health care, hospitality, media, recreation, and transportation.[7]

Origin of apprenticeships

Apprenticeship was well known in ancient civilizations such as Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as in Asia. In Europe, the system of apprenticeship developed in the later Middle Ages, supervised by craft guilds and town governments.

A master craftsman was entitled to employ young people as an inexpensive form of labor in exchange for providing formal training in the craft. Most apprentices were males, but female apprentices were found in a number of crafts associated with embroidery, silk-weaving, and so forth. Apprentices were young (usually about fourteen to twenty-one years of age), unmarried, and would live in the master craftsman's household. Most apprentices aspired to become master craftsmen themselves on completion of their contract (usually a term of seven years), but some would spend time as journeymen and a significant proportion would never acquire their own workshop. Journeymen went to different towns and villages and spent time in the workshops of their craft in order to gain experience.

In more recent times, governmental regulation and the licensing of polytechnics and vocational education have formalized and bureaucratized the details of apprenticeship in many countries.[8]


The modern concept of an internship is similar to an apprenticeship. Universities use the apprenticeship scheme in their production of scholars: bachelors are promoted to masters and then produce a thesis under the oversight of a supervisor before the corporate body of the university recognizes the reaching of the standard of a doctorate. Also similar to apprenticeships are the professional development arrangements for new graduates in particular fields, such as accountancy and the law.[9]


An apprenticeship must arise from an agreement, sometimes labeled an indenture, which possesses all the requisites of a valid contract. Both minors and adults can be legally obligated under the terms of an apprenticeship contract, and any person who has the capacity to manage his or her own affairs may engage an apprentice. There must be strict compliance with statutes that govern a minor's actions concerning an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships may involve travel as part of the training program, such as being sent to South Korea as part of a team installing new equipment during training to be an engineer.[10]


In France, apprenticeships developed between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, with guilds structured around apprentices, journeymen, and master craftsmen, continuing in this way until 1791, when the guilds were suppressed. In 1851, the first law on apprenticeships came into force. From 1919, young people had to take 150 hours of theory and general lessons in their subject a year. This minimum training time rose to three hundred sixty hours a year in 1961, and then four hundred in 1986.

The first training centers for apprentices (centres de formation d'apprentis, CFAs) appeared in 1961, and in 1971 apprenticeships were legally made part of professional training. In 1986 the age limit for beginning an apprenticeship was raised from twenty to twenty five. From 1987 the range of qualifications achievable through an apprenticeship was widened to include the brevet professionnel (certificate of vocational aptitude), the bac professionnel (vocational baccalaureat diploma), the brevet de technicien supérieur (advanced technician's certificate), engineering diplomas, and more.

The French government pledged to further develop apprenticeship as a path to success at school and to employment. In 2005, 80 percent of young French people who had completed an apprenticeship entered employment. They also attempted to improve the image of apprenticeships with an information campaign, as they are often connected with academic failure at school and an ability to grasp only practical skills and not theory.


Apprenticeships are part of Germany's successful dual education system, and as such form an integral part of many people's working life. Young people can learn one of over three hundred and fifty apprenticeship occupations (Ausbildungsberufe), such as doctor's assistant, banker, dispensing optician, or oven builder. The dual system means that apprentices spend most of their time in companies and the rest in formal education. Usually, they work for three to four days a week in the company and then spend one or two days at a vocational school (Berufsschule). These Berufsschulen have been part of the education system since the nineteenth century. In 1969, a law (the Berufsausbildungsgesetz) was passed which regulated and unified the vocational training system and codified the shared responsibility of the state, the unions, associations and chambers of trade and industry.

The dual system was successful in both parts of divided Germany: in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), three quarters of the working population had completed apprenticeships. Although the rigid training system of the GDR, linked to the huge collective combines, did not survive reunification, the system remains popular in modern Germany: in 2001, two thirds of young people aged under twenty two began an apprenticeship, and 78 percent of them completed it, meaning that approximately 51 percent of all young people under twenty two completed an apprenticeship. One in three companies offered apprenticeships in 2003; in 2004 the government signed a pledge with industrial unions that all companies except very small ones must take on apprentices.

The precise skills and theory taught during apprenticeships are strictly regulated, meaning that everyone who has, for example, had an apprenticeship as an Industriekaufmann (someone who works in an industrial company as a personnel assistant or accountant) has learned the same skills and had the same courses in procurement and stocking up, cost and activity accounting, staffing, accounting procedures, production, profit and loss accounting, and various other subjects. The employer is responsible for the entire program; apprentices are not allowed to be employed and have only an apprenticeship contract. The time taken is also regulated; each occupation takes a different time, but the average is 35 months. People who have not taken this apprenticeship are not allowed to call themselves an Industriekaufmann; the same is true for all of the occupations.

United Kingdom

Apprenticeships have a long tradition in the United Kingdom's education system. In early modern England "parish" apprenticeships under the Poor Law came to be used as a way of providing for poor children of both genders alongside the regular system of apprenticeships, which tended to provide for boys from slightly more affluent backgrounds.

In modern times, the system became less and less important, especially as employment in heavy industry and artisan trades declined. Traditional apprenticeships reached their lowest point in the 1970s: by that time, training programs were rare and people who were apprentices learned mainly by example. In 1986, National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) were introduced, in an attempt to revitalize vocational training. Still, by 1990, apprenticeship took up only two-thirds of one percent of total employment.

In 1994, the government introduced Modern Apprenticeships (in England - but not Scotland or Wales - the name was changed to Apprenticeships in 2004), again to try to improve the image of work-based learning and to encourage young people and employers to participate. These apprenticeships are based on frameworks devised initially by National Training Organisations and now by their successors, Sector Skills Councils, state-sponsored but supposedly "employer-led" bodies responsible for defining training requirements in their sector (such as Business Administration or Accounting). Frameworks consist of National Vocational Qualifications, a technical certificate, and key skills such as literacy and numeracy.

Recognizing that demand for apprenticeship places exceeded supply from employers, and that many young people, parents, and employers still associated apprenticeship with craft trades and manual occupations, the government developed a major marketing campaign in 2004.[1] In 2005 there were more than 160 apprenticeship frameworks. Unlike traditional apprenticeships, these extend beyond "craft" and skilled trades to areas of the service sector with no apprenticeship tradition. Employers who participate in the scheme have an employment contract with their apprentices, but off-the-job training and assessment is wholly funded by the state through various agencies - such as the Learning and Skills Council in England and its equivalents in Scotland and Wales. These agencies contract with "learning providers" who organize and/or deliver training and assessment services to employers. Providers are usually private training companies but might also be further education colleges, voluntary sector organizations, Chambers of Commerce, or employer Group Training Associations; only about five percent of apprenticeships are directly contracted with single employers participating in the scheme. There is no minimum time requirement for apprenticeships, although the average time spent completing a framework is roughly 21 months.

United States

Apprenticeship programs in the United States are regulated by the National Apprenticeship Act, also known as the "Fitzgerald Act." In the United States, education officials and nonprofit organizations who seek to emulate the apprenticeship system in other nations have created school to work education reforms. They seek to link academic education to careers. Some programs include job shadowing, watching a real worker for a short period of time, or actually spending significant time at a job at no or reduced pay that would otherwise be spent in academic classes working.

In the United States, school to work programs usually occur only in high school. American high schools were introduced in the early twentieth century to educate students of all ability and interests in one learning community rather than prepare a small number for college. Traditionally, American students are tracked within a wide choice of courses based on ability, with vocational courses (such as auto repair and carpentry) tending to be at the lower end of academic ability and trigonometry and pre-calculus at the upper end.

There is a movement in the U.S. to revive vocational education. For example, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) opened the Finishing Trades Institute (FTI). The FTI is working towards national accreditation so that it may offer associate and bachelor degrees that integrate academics with more traditional apprentice programs. The IUPAT joined forces with the Professional Decorative Painters Association (PDPA) to build educational standards using a model of apprenticeship created by the PDPA.

The National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee has coordinated apprenticeships in a number of skilled trades. Persons interested in learning to become electricians can join one of several apprenticeship programs offered jointly by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association. Apprentice electricians work 37 to 40 hours per week at the trade under the supervision of a journeyman electrician and receive pay and benefits. They spend an additional 6 hours per week in classroom training. At the conclusion of training (five years for commercial and industrial construction, less for residential construction), apprentices become journeymen. All of this is offered at no charge, except for the cost of books. Persons completing this program are considered highly skilled by employers and command high pay and benefits. Other unions such as the Ironworkers, Sheet Metal Workers, Plasterers, Bricklayers, and others offer similar programs.


An intern is one who works in a temporary position with an emphasis on on-the-job training rather than merely employment, making it similar to an apprenticeship. Interns are usually college or university students, but they can also be other adults seeking skills for a new career. Student internships provide opportunities for students to gain experience in their field, determine if they have an interest in a particular career, create a network of contacts, or gain school credit.

An internship may be either paid, unpaid, or partially paid (in the form of a stipend). Paid internships are most common in the medical, science, engineering, law, business (especially accounting and finance), technology, and advertising fields. Internships in not-for-profit organizations such as charities and think tanks are often unpaid, volunteer positions. Internships may be part-time or full-time; typically they are part-time during the university year and full-time in the summer, and they typically last 6-12 weeks, but can be shorter or longer.[11]

Internship positions are available from businesses, government departments, non-profit groups, and organizations. In Canada the term "cooperative education" is used more often to describe this same type of program. Due to strict labor laws, European internships, though mostly unpaid, are popular among non-Europeans to gain international exposure on one's resume and for foreign language improvement. Different kinds of internships exist in different industries or settings, and for different purposes:

Work experience internship: Most often taken in the second or third year of the school period, the placement can be from two months to sometimes even one full school year. During this period the student is supposed to use what he or she has learned in school and put it into practice. The work experience gained experience is helpful to complete the last year of study.

Research internship or dissertation internship: Most often done by students that are in their last year of studies or in graduate school, this type of internship involves conducting research for a particular company. The research topic may be chosen by the student, or assigned as an area of research needed by the company. Typically, the student is asked to present a report following completion of their research.

Medical internship: A medical intern, in the context of medical education in the United States, is the historical term for a physician in training who has completed medical school and is undergoing their first year of post-graduate training. Thus, an "intern" in the medical field has an M.D. or D.O. degree, but does not have a full license to practice medicine unsupervised in the U.S. In other countries medical education generally ends with a period of practical training similar to internship, but the way the overall program of academic and practical medical training is structured differs in each case, as does the terminology used in medical education.

International internship: Many students do internships in a different country in order to obtain international experience and learn an additional language. The meaning of such internships is different around the globe. At Spanish universities it is not common to do an internship during the education period. However, Spain is a popular country for students to go to for a short period of time to do an internship, as many students want to learn Spanish, and this is a perfect opportunity for them to do so. Internships in Spain are almost never paid. In the UK, Canada, and Australia there are both unpaid and paid internships. The unpaid internships are mostly chosen by students who are either still in school and doing an internship as part of the requirements of school or who have just left school. The paid internship is mostly for people that want to spend time in these countries to improve their English, and is not necessarily related to their area of specialization. An internship in France is also popular for international students who want to learn French, and many work opportunities exist with companies desiring employees who speak various languages.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Blueprint for Apprenticeships. Department for Education and Skills. (2005).
  2. Apprentice. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved July 20, 2007.
  3. John Singleton. Learning in Likely Places: Varieties of Apprenticeship in Japan. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998).
  4. Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia Retrieved August 7, 2007.
  5. Alliance for California Traditional Arts Retrieved August 7, 2007.
  6. Laurel Kendall, Shamans: The Next Generation Natural History Magazine (March 1997): 40-41. Retrieved August 7, 2007.
  7. List of Apprenticeships. Apprenticeships Directory. (2005). Retrieved July 20, 2007.
  8. Jeffrey Lehman and Shirelle Phelps. West's Encyclopedia of American Law. (Thomson Gale, 2004 ISBN 978-0787663674).
  9. About Apprenticeships. Apprenticeship Directory. (2005).
  10. Korean Connection AVT Update No. 11 (2005). Retrieved August 7, 2007.
  11. Marianne Ehrlich Green. Internship Success. (New York: McGraw-Hill 2004 ISBN 978-0844244952).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bogart, Greg. 1997. The Nine Stages of Spiritual Apprenticeship: Understanding the Student-Teacher Relationship. Dawn Mountain Press. ISBN 978-0963906854.
  • Farr, J. Shatkin, Laurence. 2005. 250 Best Jobs Through Apprenticeships. Jist Publishings. ISBN 978-1593571733.
  • Fealy, Gerard. 2005. A History of Apprenticeship Nurse Training in Ireland: Bright Faces and Neat Dresses. TF-ROUTL. ISBN 978-0415359979.
  • Green, Marianne Ehrlich. 1998. Internship Success. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0844244952.
  • King, Mary and Frederick Sweitzer. 2003. The Successful Internship: Transformation and Empowerment in Experiential Learning. Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 978-0534558796.
  • Lehman, Jeffrey and Shirelle Phelps. 2004. West's Encyclopedia of American Law. Detroit: Thomson Gale. ISBN 978-0787663674.
  • Oakes, Elizabeth. 1998. Ferguson's Guide to Apprenticeship Programs. Ferguson Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0894342431.
  • Singleton, John. 1998. Learning in Likely Places: Varieties of Apprenticeship in Japan. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521480124

External links

All links retrieved August 11, 2023.


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