1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Apprenticeship

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APPRENTICESHIP (from Fr. apprendre, to learn), a contract whereby one person, called the master, binds himself to teach, and another, called the apprentice, undertakes to learn, some trade or profession, the apprentice serving his master for a certain time.

Roman law is silent on the subject on this contract, nor does it seem to have had any connexion with the division of the Roman citizens into tribes or colleges. So far as can be seen it arose in the middle ages, and formed an integral part of the system of trade gilds and corporations by which skilled labourers of all kinds sought protection against the feudal lords, and the maintenance of those exclusive privileges with which in the interests of the public they were favoured. In those times it was believed that neither arts nor sciences would flourish unless such only were allowed to practise them as had given proofs of reasonable proficiency and were formed into bodies corporate, with certain powers of self-government and the exclusive monopoly of their respective arts within certain localities; and the medieval universitas (corporation)—whether of smiths and tailors or of scholars—included both such as were entitled to practise and teach and such as were in course of learning. The former were the masters, the latter the apprentices. Hence the term apprentice was applied indifferently to such as were being taught a trade or a learned profession, and even to undergraduates or scholars who were qualifying themselves for the degree of doctor or master in the liberal arts. When barristers were first appointed by Edward I. of England they were styled apprenticii ad legem—the serjeants-at-law being servientes ad legem; and these two terms corresponded respectively to the trade names of apprentices and journeymen. During the middle ages the term of apprenticeship was seven years, and this period was thought no more than sufficient to instruct the learner in his profession, craft or mystery under a properly qualified master, teacher or doctor—for these names were synonymous—and to reimburse the latter by service for the training received. After this the apprentice became himself a master and a member of the corporation, with full rights to practise the business and to teach others in his turn; so also it would seem that undergraduates had to pass through a curriculum of seven years before they could attain the degree of doctor or master in the liberal arts. On the continent of Europe these rules were observed with considerable rigour, both in the learned professions and in those which we now designate as trades. In England they made their way more slowly and did not receive much countenance, there being always a jealousy of anything savouring of interference with the freedom of trade. Nevertheless the formation of gilds and companies of tradesmen in England dates probably from the 12th century, and the institution of apprenticeships cannot be of much later date. In 1388 and 1405 it is noticed in acts of parliament. By various subsequent statutes provisions were made for the regulation of the institution, and from them it appears that seven years was its ordinary and normal term in the absence of special arrangement. By a statute of 1562 this was made the law of the land, and it was enacted that no person should exercise any “trade or mystery” without having served a seven years’ apprenticeship. In no place did the apprentices become so formidable by their numbers and organization as in London. During the Great Rebellion they took an active part as a political body, and were conspicuous after the Restoration by being frequently engaged in tumults. It was probably owing to this circumstance, quite as much as to economic considerations of freedom of trade, that the act of Elizabeth never found much favour with the courts of law. Soon after the Great Rebellion we find the apprentice laws strongly reprobated by the judges, who endeavoured, on the theory that the act of Elizabeth could apply to no trades which were not in existence at its date, to limit its operation as far as possible. Such limitation of the act gave rise to many absurd anomalies and inconsistencies, e.g. that a coachmaker could not make his own wheels but must buy them of a wheelwright, while the latter might make both wheels and coaches, because coach-making was not a trade in England when the act of Elizabeth was passed. For the like reason the great textile and metal manufactures which arose at Manchester and Birmingham were held exempt from the operation of the statute. Concurrently with the dislike to the apprentice laws which such anomalies generated, the doctrines of Adam Smith, that all monopolies or restrictions on the freedom of trade were injurious to the public interest, had gradually been making their way, and notwithstanding much opposition an act was passed in 1814 by which the statute of Elizabeth, in so far as it enacts that no person shall engage in any trade without a seven years’ apprenticeship, was wholly repealed. The effect of this act was to give every person the fullest right to exercise any occupation or calling of a mechanical or trading kind for which he deemed himself qualified.

Apprenticeship, therefore, which was formerly a compulsory, now became a voluntary contract. In the case of the learned professions the principles and theories which gave birth to corporations with monopolies, and required apprenticeship or its equivalents, have—contrary to what has taken place in trade—been not only maintained but intensified; that is to say, not only have such bodies retained and even extended in some cases their exclusive privileges, but in general no one is allowed to practise in such professions unless his capabilities have been tested and approved by public authority. Thus no man is allowed to practise law or medicine in any of their branches who has not undergone the appropriate training by attendance at a university or by apprenticeship—sometimes by both combined—and passed certain examinations. Entrance to the church is guarded by similar checks. In such instances the old principle—now generally abandoned in trade—of granting a monopoly to those possessing a certain standard of qualification is maintained in greater vigour than ever.

In some kinds of manufacture the old conditions have been modified by the subdivisions of labour or by the introduction of machinery, which have reduced the amount of skill which formerly was requisite, and thus they have passed out of the category of the higher skilled handicrafts, as only a very slight or short training is necessary to make an efficient worker; but a large number of the higher skilled trades remain which require a long period of training at the bench, and a careful inquiry into this subject has shown that in nearly all of such trades there is a scarcity of skilled workers, which is due to the falling off in the number of apprenticeships. Many persons qualified to form an opinion deplore that something in the nature of the old standard of qualification is not still applied to those trades, and consider that the only method of restoring a high standard of skill is by apprenticeship. The decay of apprenticeship in these trades is due, not to any inherent defect in the system, nor to its having been superseded by any other form of technical education, but to difficulties, especially in London and some other large towns, which place it beyond the reach of that class of persons who have the greatest need of it. Among these difficulties are:—first, insufficient organization, and secondly, want of funds to pay premiums where such are required. These difficulties are accentuated in London and some other large towns, but in many other districts apprenticeship is actively proceeded with. Efforts are being made, notably by the National Institution of Apprenticeship, to meet these difficulties. The Charity Commissioners in their report for 1905 recognized the value of this institution, and stated that they would in future enable the trustees of charity endowments for apprenticeship to avail themselves of the practical co-operation of the institution. The modern trade unions, on the other hand, have done nothing to assist in restoring apprenticeship to its proper place; on the contrary, they have hampered it by restrictions which they have imposed, limiting the number of apprentices who may be taken. The result of fewer apprentices has been not only to lower the standard of skill in the higher trades, but to reduce the productive capacity of the artisans. The altered conditions now attending apprenticeship are, mainly, that the apprentice does not live with the master, and that the term is generally five years instead of a longer period; but the principle remains precisely the same, and the fact that it is applied more and more largely in Austria, Germany and other countries is an evidence of its necessity.

The contract of apprenticeship is generally created by indenture, but any writing properly expressed and attested will do. The full consideration must be set out, and the instrument, whether a premium is paid or not, must be duly stamped, except in the case of parish apprentices and apprentices to the sea service (see Seamen, Laws relating to). Where a charity or institution intervenes, it retains control over the indentures until the end of the term of apprenticeship, when the indenture should be cancelled and given up to the apprentice. Any one who is capable of making a contract can take an apprentice, and the law does not limit the number which may be taken by any master. Any person of legal capacity can bind himself as an apprentice, provided he is over seven years of age, though, as he is by the common law exempt from all liability ex contractu, it is usual for the apprentice’s relations or friends to become bound for his service and good conduct during the period of his apprenticeship. The consent of the apprentice, however, must be expressed by his executing the indenture. No child under nine can be bound as a parish apprentice. The master must teach the apprentice the agreed trade or trades; should the master exercise two trades (which he has agreed to teach) and give up one, it would be good ground for dissolving the contract by the apprentice. An apprentice is not bound to work on Sundays, but he may be required to work on bank holidays. He cannot become a volunteer (soldier) without his master’s consent. It is usual in the indenture to state whether the apprentice is to be paid wages or otherwise. If the contract is to pay wages, no deduction can be made owing to illness or accident, unless it has been so provided for in the indentures. Nor is the apprentice liable for breakages or similar faults. The master has been supposed to have a right to administer moderate corporal punishment, though he may not delegate it. But this right is really obsolete. According to old custom a master provided proper food for his apprentices, and medical attendance when required; but the modern practice is for apprentices to reside with their parents or friends who maintain them. A master cannot assign indentures without the approval of the apprentice or such parties as are named in the contract for this purpose, even if he should transfer his business. The contract of apprenticeship may be dissolved by (1) efflux of time; (2) by death (if the master dies, some part of the premium is usually returnable, but if the apprentice dies no part is returnable); (3) by consent; (4) in case of grave misconduct; (5) under the Bankruptcy Act 1883, providing for discharge of the indentures of apprenticeship and for payment on account of premium. Disputes between master and apprentice, in cases where no premium has been paid, or where the premium does not exceed £25, are dealt with by courts of summary jurisdiction. Apprentices bound according to the “custom of London,” who are infants above the age of fourteen years and under twenty-one and unmarried, are responsible upon covenants contained in indentures executed by them just as if they were of full age. The term of apprenticeship is usually not less than four years. Apprentices by the custom of London in agreements made at the Guildhall are subject to the jurisdiction of the chamberlain of London.

Parish apprentices are those bound out by guardians of the poor in England. By the Poor Relief Act 1601, overseers of the poor were empowered, with the consent of two justices, to put out poor children as apprentices “where they shall be convenient.” Owing to the disinclination to receive such apprentices it became necessary to make the reception compulsory (1696), but this compulsion to receive them was abolished in 1844. Many statutes have been passed from time to time regulating the apprenticing of parish children, but it is now under the control of the Local Government Board, which issues rules specifying fully the manner in which such children are to be bound, assigned and maintained.

Authorities.—See E. Austin, Law Relating to Apprentices (1890); Addison, On Contracts (1905). For the state of apprenticeship in European countries, and, more particularly in France, see Apprentissage, enquête et documents (Paris, 1904, Conseil Supérieur du Travail, Ministère du Commerce, de l’Industrie, des Postes et des Télégraphes, session de 1902). See also the literature issued by the National Institution of Apprenticeship, London.  (J. S. B.)