Apprenticeships: from the Middle Ages to modern-day

Apprenticeships: from the Middle Ages to modern-day

By J&C Team

The first apprenticeships began in the late Middle Ages, where a master craftsman would employ young people in exchange for food, lodging and formal training, and this vocational system of learning – albeit modernised – remains in a similar guise to this day (instead, now apprentices are paid a wage, rather than given bed and breakfast!). While an apprentice may have trained for around seven years 600 years ago, nowadays apprenticeships tend to last between 10 months and four years (depending upon the level, of course).

More than 500,000 people commenced an apprenticeship in the 2011/12 academic year – and young people certainly remain the target market for the model, with more than 125,000 of those starters aged between 16 to 18. However, apprenticeships do, of course, welcome people of all ages.

How do they work?

Essentially, apprenticeships are work-based programmes. They combine hands-on training with study (which is usually carried out at a college one day a week), making them the ideal route for those who prefer to learn in a practical environment, rather than from books and lectures. Apprentices are expected to work a minimum of 30 hours a week (but no more than 40 hours); which generally equates to at least 7.5 hours a day.

Whatever your interests, aptitudes and career dreams, there is an ideal apprenticeship for you. From Administrators to Lifeguards to Graphic Designers, apprenticeships cover a spectrum of industries – and they are a versatile training route. There are three levels of apprenticeship available:

  • Intermediate Level or Level 2 apprenticeships are comparable with five GCSEs A*-C, and would be suitable for entry-level roles upon qualification.
  • Advanced Level or Level 3 apprenticeships are comparable with two A levels, and typical positions in this level are supporting roles.
  • Higher Level or Level 4 (or 5) apprenticeships are comparable with the first year of university, and include roles that may require specific knowledge or responsibility. Typically, you’ll achieve a foundation degree, which then allows you to continue to study at degree-level if you so wish.

As well as an NVQ (National Vocational Qualifications) at Level 2, 3, 4 or 5, apprentices will achieve Functional Skills qualifications in Maths, English or ICT; a technical certificate, such as a City & Guilds Progression Award or a BTEC National Diploma complete; a module on personal learning and thinking skills and a module on employee rights and responsibilities. If you are undertaking a Level 4 or 5 apprenticeship, you will achieve a knowledge-based qualification such a Foundation degree, a Higher National Certificate (HNC) or a Higher National Diploma (HND). Take a look at to find out more.

Earn and learn

With the rise of university tuition fees to £9,000 a year – which, added to maintenance loans sets the average undergraduate student debt at £43,000 – and the ever-competitive graduate job market, apprenticeships offer many advantages. First, of course, they allow you to study and be paid for it: and, while this may not rival graduate salaries, it can provide useful sustenance before you hit the world of full-time, permanent work. The current National Minimum Wage for apprentices stands at £2.65 (for financial year 2012/13), having increased by 15 pence in the past two years. This comes to an average of £170 per week, but an employer can, of course, offer to pay you more than the NMW. Apprentices get treated for the most part like real employees of the company, which means they get at least 20 days off as holiday per year, plus bank holidays.

When it comes to the cost of the apprenticeship, there are different levels of government funding on offer. For those aged 16 to 18, apprenticeships are entirely funded by the government; if you’re aged 19 to 24, it will be part-funded and the rest paid for by your employer; and for over 25-year-olds, the employer will cover the entire cost of the training.

Words: Jessie Bland

Image: Shutterstock

[This article was originally printed in Jobs & Careers with Hilary Devey magazine in May 2013]