The history of apprenticeships

Apprentices are at the forefront of our minds recently, with the Government announcing plans for growth, the apprenticeship levy and National Apprenticeship Week is just around the corner.  But where did apprentices start, and how have they changed?


We take a step back in time to see where they all began…


Back in the 14th century, parents would pay the Guild’s Master craftsman for their child to become an apprentice for 5-9 years and they were legally bound to that master for the duration.  The first documents outlining terms and conditions for this form of training appear in 1563 called the Elizabethan Statutes of Artificers, and this was to regulate the apprenticeships system as well as forbidding anyone to work in a specific trade or craft without first completing their time as an apprentice.


In 1601 there were two types of apprentice; a ‘parish’ apprenticeship and a skilled apprenticeship.  A parish apprenticeship was offered to the poor, orphaned children in, what was considered then, lower occupations such as brickmaking, working on local farms and household service.  In contrast, skilled apprenticeships were for more affluent families and strictly for boys only.


Over the following centuries, not much changed other than the payments for apprentices.  In the late 1700’s it was introduced that parents could make their payment to the masters in instalments opposed to one lump sum and it was during the same time that masters started to pay their apprentices a small wage, initially to pay for new clothes but over time payments became more regular and by the 19th century the system was radically changed as apprenticeships that legally bound a child to a master were abolished.


The 1950’s saw the UK high technology industry grow in its use of apprentices to bring in fresh skills and grow their own talent.  This included 4 different types; craft, technician, higher technician and graduate.  These all differed due to the length of the apprenticeship, as well as where and how long their academic study was.


The next major change was in 1964 when the UK Industry Training Boards (ITBs) was launched.  Their aim was to improve the training available, both in terms of the quality and how the cost was to be managed by employers.  Consequently, the time period from mid-1960’s and mid-1970’s saw the highest level of apprenticeship recruitment.


Apprentices then saw a low in the 1980’s due to the general decline in employment and training courses, even though the high technology apprenticeships still continued to flourish.  In a bid to counteract this decline, in 1986 the National Vocational Qualifications were launched and 8 years later in 1994 the Government introduced Modern Apprenticeships.

The National Apprenticeship Service was then launched in 2009 to coordinate apprentices in England and manage the 180 different apprentice frameworks.  2013 saw the launch of the trailblazers; a group of employers working together to build apprenticeship standards and as of July 2015 there were 140 trailblazer employer groups.


There are now three levels of apprenticeship:

  • Intermediate apprenticeship – level 2; equivalent to five good GCSE passes
  • Advanced apprenticeship – level 3; equivalent to two a-level passes
  • Higher apprenticeship – level 4/5; equivalent to a foundation degree


Funding is now shared between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills which funds adult apprentices, and Department for Education which funds 16-18 year olds.


It’s taken a number of centuries but now apprentices are considered employees with a contract and a wage, with more opportunities than ever before to grow their career.  If you’d like more information on an apprenticeship you can contact the Aspire Training Team on 01202 551553 or email


Posted in: General