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Historical research provides insight into apprenticeships in 1914 and now

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The research, compiled from 1,911 census data from Ancestry, was combined with a review of historical research conducted by Professor Krista Cowman at the University of Lincoln.

After taking a look at the research, Sue Husband, director of apprenticeships at the National Apprenticeship Service, explained that the research confirms how the value of apprenticeships have stayed the same throughout the centuries.

“The employers of yesterday, like those of today, recognised the value of apprenticeships in equipping people with the skills businesses required,” she said. “Today more than 100,000 employers are offering quality apprenticeships, building on the example of pioneering forefathers before them.”

So what has changed? 100 years ago this was concentrated mainly around artisan trades, but as the number of larger employers grew in the 20th century this evolved to newer metalworking industries like engineering and shipbuilding.

Edward Padgett, owner of Arthur Padgett, a plumbing business in Lancashire that started trading almost 100 years ago, said: “My grandfather started as an apprentice in plumbing over a century ago. Since then our trade has evolved enormously, but the need for skilled labour is still as relevant today as it was then.”

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The most popular trade in 1914 was dressmaking, whereas today health and social care tops the list.

In contrast, engineering and construction were popular choices both then and now. Engineering was second choice for many, but has dropped down to ninth place in 2014. On the other hand, where construction was ranked just below number ten in 1914, it rose in popularity in later years.

The research also reveals that no matter whichever vocation chosen, most apprentices started work early at the age of 15 compared to today’s 19-24.

Furthermore, 100 years ago, women made up 22 per cent of apprentices, a figure that has significantly increased to 55 per cent in 2014.

Most fascinating, however, was that although employers in 1914 offered a mixture of on-the-job training and formal education, apprentices were legally required to work for an employer for a number of years and had to pay a fee to their employer to cover the cost of their training. They were also required to pay for their tools out of their salaries.

Any apprentice that was felt to be performing below par could be summoned to appear in court at their employer’s request. This could be for turning up late, being ‘idle’ or just having a bad attitude and could even result in a prison sentence.

Today, apprentices have solid apprenticeship frameworks, their training is funded by government and employer alike, their tools are provided, they have access to higher education and employers provide further support through mentoring.

Cowman said: “Life was tough for apprentices back then. They often started with very menial tasks, working long hours over several years. They could also be summoned to court if they misbehaved.

“Then as now though, it is clear how valuable apprenticeships were considered to be in building a skilled workforce.”

The top five sectors in 1914:

  1. Dressmaking
  2. Engineering
  3. Carpentry
  4. Drapery
  5. Milinery

The top five sectors in 2014:

  1. Health and social care
  2. Business administration
  3. Management
  4. Hospitality and catering
  5. Customer Service

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