With apprenticeship programs, many things changed, others stayed the same

Apprenticeship is probably the oldest form of formal training, dating back some 4,000 years. Its roots go back to Babylonian times.

Apprentice training continues today. Third-year sheet metal apprentice Martin E. Sandoval uses a pair of snips on his project at the Sheet Metal Workers union 33rd annual apprentice contest May 4-6, 2005, in Portland, Ore. Image courtesy of the International Training Institute.
Apprenticeship is probably the oldest form

of formal training, dating back some 4,000 years. Its roots go back to Babylonian times.

The Babylonian laws, better known as the

Code of Hammurabi, named after King Hammurabi, were the first set of written rules to address apprenticeship training.

Law No. 188 deals with apprenticeships. It says that if an artisan adopts a young boy for training, his own parents shall not raise him. When the apprentice was indentured to a master craftsman, the apprentice served for a term of years according to the nature of his trade. For example, the apprentice term for a weaver was five years, and a mason was four years.

Law No. 274 went even farther, setting the wages of carpenters, bricklayers, builders, potters, stonecutters, jewelers and those who worked with reeds, cloth and leather.

Third-year apprentice Brian E. Dalhman works on a project. Image courtesy of the International Training Institute.

Fixed wages

The wages of the craftsman were fixed by the day. The term "journeyman" was coined for this practice of day laborers, "journey" being the French word for "day's work." The records of Egypt, Greece and Rome reveal that skills were still being passed on in this fashion.

Guilds in the Middle Ages began to appear in approximately 1000 A.D. Their origin has been a subject of debate. Some say they have Roman or Byzantine origins and were the last remnants of the Roman Empire. Others believe they originally came from Germany.

Statutes governed guilds much in the same way they did in Babylonian times. The apprentice was a child whom his parents or guardians wished to be taught a trade as soon as he was 10 or 12 years old. A "master" was found to take him. The apprentice would work in the master's shop until the day when he should rise to be a master.

Every instructor had to be a master. He had to be honest, patient and approved by the guild officers. The two parties, the parents or guardians and the master, would enter into a contract before a notary. The contract fixed the length of the apprenticeship, usually from one to 12 years, depending on the trade, and stipulated a probationary period during which time either party could cancel the agreement.

Third-year contestant Jason W. Fulton marks his project. Image courtesy of the International Training Institute.

Food, shelter included

According to the agreement, the child (apprentice) received lodging, food, clothes, and was supervised and taught in the master's home. Contracts often stipulated that the apprentice would eventually receive a salary. Upon completion of his time, an apprentice became a journeyman, and usually went to work for his teacher.

The guilds of the Middle Ages were powerful and influential, both politically and economically. Their members were well respected in their communities. They controlled much of the industry. Modern-day trade unions are direct descendants of these Middle Age guilds.

The guild system of England was imported to America during Colonial times almost completely intact. Young men were indentured for a specified amount of time to learn a skill or trade. The master completely controlled the apprentice's life. The master would not only teach the young apprentice his trade, but was also responsible for his physical and moral well-being.

Benjamin Franklin served as a printer's apprentice during this period, and later, when he was U.S. ambassador to France, would often sign his name "Benjamin Franklin, printer."

Second-year contestant Brian J. Pfeffer sits at a drafting table. Image courtesy of the International Training Institute.

Goverment Involvement

With the expansion of industry following the industrial revolution, the apprenticeship system was changed to apply to the new age. The early system, in which the apprentice lived with the master and was dependent on him for food, clothing, shelter and training, disappeared. The first state to promote an organized system of apprenticeship was Wisconsin, which enacted a law in 1911. The law placed apprenticeship under the jurisdiction of an industrial commission. The state set the rules and standards for apprenticeship programs.

In the 1920s, national employer and labor organizations, educators and government officials began a concentrated effort to create a national, uniform apprenticeship system. Many construction industry groups were involved in this movement.

Third-year apprentice Joseph S. Pavek works on a welding assignment. Image courtesy of the International Training Institute.
In 1937, Congress enacted the National Apprentice Law, commonly known as the Fitzgerald Act. It set the pattern for today's system of federal government assistance in apprenticeship programs. The Apprentice Training Service, now the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training, was established as the national administrative agency in the Department of Labor to carry out the law.

Today, more than 800 occupations are registered with the bureau. Most of these occupations are in the construction, manufacturing and transportation industries.