- "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."
- –Ernest Hemingway
Historical Context Edit
Traditionally, an apprenticeship is some method of instructing a new generation of “masters” in a craft, art, or trade … using hands-on training, leavened with lots of beatings. (The latter, not so much anymore.) During this period of training, the apprentice studies with an employer in exchange for his/her labor for an agreed time – typically, three to six years – until he/she has achieved a level of measurable competence. All this under the auspices of a guild or trade union. Those who complete their apprenticeship successfully become journeymen, and if diligent, masters themselves so they can instruct a new generation of apprentices. Thus, the trade or craft develops a self-sustaining core of practitioners.
The whole system evolved during the late Middle Ages, when a master craftsman was given the right in many town and city charters to employ young people in exchange for lodging, food, a little spending money, and formal training. In effect, the apprentice was bound body and soul to the master for the length of the apprenticeship. But it was better than most other choices for poor and illiterate youngsters looking to get ahead. In most of Europe, once an apprentice became a journeyman (if he/she did), they were considered a freeman with all the rights of any citizen. If they became masters, they were respected and respectable members of society.
Most apprentices during the medieval and renaissance periods were male, but female apprentices could be found in a few places learning to be seamstresses, tailors, cordwainers, or stationers. Civilization is built upon a constantly renewed skilled labor force, of course; whereas through much of history these skills were passed down in families, the population and technological explosion that began in the 1400s demanded an expanding force. And the guild-apprentice system worked very well. In time government regulations disbanded the guilds and the rise of vocational schools gave young workers other options; nevertheless, vestiges of the apprenticeship system remain, especially in the building trades.