apprenticeship, system of learning a craft or trade from one who is engaged in it and of paying for the instruction by a given number of years of work. The practice was known in ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as in modern Europe and to some extent in the United States. Typically, in medieval Europe, a master craftsman agreed to instruct a young man, to give him shelter, food, and clothing, and to care for him during illness. The apprentice would bind himself to work for the master for a given time. After that time he would become a journeyman, working for a master for wages, or he set up as a master himself. The medieval guilds supervised the relation of master and apprentice and decided the number of apprentices in a given guild. The Industrial Revolution, with its introduction of machinery, put an end to most of these guilds, but apprenticeship continues in highly skilled trades, at times competing with vocational training schools (see vocational education).
The terms of apprenticeship are regulated by many labor agreements as well as by law. The U.S. system of apprenticeships, established in 1937, is modeled on a 1911 Wisconsin law that named 200 occupations that benefited from apprenticeship programs. Some, such as plumbing and carpentry, required a mandatory apprenticeship period. The passage of the Manpower Development and Training Act in 1962 further encouraged apprenticeship programs. In Great Britain apprenticeship programs sometimes include outside schooling at company expense. The apprenticeship programs in continental Europe today differ from those in Great Britain and the United States by offering training in a wide range of fields, not just the skilled crafts.
See A. Beveridge, Apprenticeship Now (1963); N. F. Duffy, ed., Essays on Apprenticeship (1967); P. Mapp, Women in Apprenticeship (1973).