What is an Apprenticeship?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

The concept of an apprenticeship has been around since the latter part of the Middle Ages, and remains a viable form of training today. Essentially, an apprenticeship is a means of taking on an individual who will learn the skills and practices that are associated with a given career path. The apprentice is taken under the wing of an individual who is recognized and an expert practitioner of the craft, and over a period of years is schooled in all aspects of the career, until the apprentice is able to go out on his or her own and function effectively.

Apprenticeships provide on-the-job training, often times in trades like carpentry and electrical.
Apprenticeships provide on-the-job training, often times in trades like carpentry and electrical.

The idea of an apprenticeship first developed as a way for craftsmen to train young protégés in a particular craft, with an eye of one day turning their business over to the apprentice. In other applications, municipal governments would send young men to another location to be schooled in a particular craft, with the understanding the individual would return to the town or village after the apprenticeship and set up a local shop. In both cases, the apprentices would remain with the master craftsman for a number of years, until it was determined that the individual had earned the right to be referred to as a craftsman, and was ready to go it alone.

Working alongside a seasoned welder can teach tricks of the trade and offer hands-on experience.
Working alongside a seasoned welder can teach tricks of the trade and offer hands-on experience.

While most apprenticeships in the Middle Ages involved the vocational training of young men, there were some apprenticeship opportunities for young women as well. Most of these involved schooling in what were considered feminine arts, such as embroidery, weaving and sewing, and in some cases learning how to be a governess. Just as with the young men, the young women who entered into an apprenticeship had to demonstrate some degree of natural talent, and would commit to a period of five to seven years away from family.

As time went on, the process of apprenticeship underwent a great deal of change. Governmental regulations began to define the limits of apprenticeship, which led to the abandonment of the practice of apprenticing young people in some crafts. In others, the process of apprenticeship began to change into a process that is not unlike the on the job training programs that are often found today. Still, the concept of the apprenticeship is not dead. Especially with the creative arts, it is still possible to attach an individual to someone who is acknowledged as an authority, and spend a number of years studying under the tutelage of that expert authority.

Apprenticeships allow individuals to learn a lot about an industry in a short amount of time.
Apprenticeships allow individuals to learn a lot about an industry in a short amount of time.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@nony - I think the major difference between an apprentice and an intern is the idea of a master craftsman or laborer who decides to take you under his wings. This may not happen with an internship.

We hired an intern in our software company and he didn’t last more than three months. The reason is that we didn't really have time to train him. He was always waiting for us to show him what to do, and when we didn’t he just twiddled his thumbs.

The problem is that we have a small business where you have to figure a lot of things out on your own. There’s limited supervision. I’m not saying all internships are like this, but in apprenticeships the idea of figuring things out on your own is definitely out of the question. You work under the guidance of a master tutor until you gain proficiency in the skill or trade.


@everetra- Internships are broader in their scope, and apply to a variety of professions, as you said. I think the term apprenticeship is limited more towards skills that typically require manual or creative labor, like a carpenter apprenticeship or an electrical apprenticeship for example.

In other words, these are skills that don’t necessarily require a college degree but can be learned hands-on. I have a friend who worked one summer as a draftsman; he had artistic skills and they taught him the basic tools of the trade.

I realize you can major in Architecture to learn drafting, but basic drafting can be learned in an apprenticeship without a college degree.


I would think that the concept of apprenticeship has evolved in some sense. I think the modern concept of an internship borrows from the same idea of an apprenticeship, except of course it’s not limited strictly to technical or vocational trades.

Accountants have to undergo an internship before going professional. My nephew graduated with an accounting degree and he is interning for a well-known accounting company. It’s paid, but it’s an internship, and he is working on taking the CPA exam as well.

I don’t really see a major difference between the internship and the apprenticeship; the internship is just the modern name for the same thing. What does everyone else think?


@comfyshoes - I've been to salons before where it's official policy for the hairdresser to inform you if she or he is an apprentice or not. It's never bothered me though; like you said they usually get a lot of training before they're even allowed to cut hair anyway and I've never had a bad experience.


@Comfyshoes - I know that many technical jobs also involve an apprenticeship program because these jobs are difficult in scope and people seeking these jobs have to learn how to do the job little by little. This is why you will see an electrician apprenticeship, a mechanic apprenticeship, carpentry apprenticeship, plumbing apprenticeship, and welding apprenticeships.

These fields are also really lucrative and are always in demand. I know that the United States Department of Labor also offers government sponsored apprenticeship programs all over the country.

They have a drop down menu that allows you to select your state and county and it offers you a list of potential apprenticeship programs along with the address of the business. These jobs could range from bakers and landscape designers to plumbers and electricians.

There are really a number of industries represented and it gives you an opportunity to get hands on training in a field that might lead to a full time job offer later on.


I just want to say that there are a lot of jobs that still require apprenticeship training. For example, if you want to become a real estate appraiser you have to work under a licensed real estate appraiser for almost two years after you graduate from your training program in order to be able to take your test and get your license.

I know that many hairdressers work under a stylist and shampoo the client’s hair before they are given their own station. They have to receive so much on the job experience before taking on their own clients. Apprenticeship programs are very common in salons.

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