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Apprenticeships since the 1950s

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In the 1950s, apprenticeships were the main route into a job in most manufacturing industries, engineering and many construction occupations.

Government intervention in this sort of training was minimal. Young people (apprentices were only very rarely over the age of 20) would work for a firm for about three years before automatically becoming a full employee.

The fall in apprenticeships during the 1970s and 1980s is partly explained by the decline in the UK’s manufacturing industries. But just as important was the declining relevance of the apprenticeship model in the face of a labour market that increasingly demanded a willingness, especially among young people, to change jobs in the course of their careers. Many important occupations in the post-industrial economy, including jobs in retail and administration, were not served by the old style of apprenticeships. Furthermore, this form of training, which awarded no formal or transferable qualifications, came to be seen as less valuable than other forms of recognised education.

All this changed in the mid-1990s when Modern Apprenticeships were launched. These are paid jobs that involve both on and off-the-job training. The government pays for a proportion of the training andthe apprentice’s employer normally covers the remaining costs.

Apprenticeships now lead to nationally recognised qualifications and are available for almost every occupation. The occupations that are filled through apprenticeships today are very different to those in the past. In 2011, only 11% of apprenticeships were undertaken in manufacturing occupations, compared with 60% in 1950.

People of any age can now undertake apprenticeships. In 2011, 40% of apprenticeships were undertaken by people aged 25 or over. These reforms have changed the role of apprenticeships, from an introduction to a first job to a means of training or re-training for a new career.

From metalwork to marketing: apprenticeships have been adapted to reflect changing labour market conditions
The chart shows the number of apprenticeships undertaken in each year since 1950.

The chart shows the number of apprenticeships undertaken in each year since 1950

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