The Middle Ages – The Origin of Blue Collar Apprenticeships

The Middle Ages Apprenticeship As a Blue Collar worker there is about a 50% chance that you have completed an apprenticeship or traineeship to get where you now are.  Times have changed drastically for apprentices over the years, these days it is really a summer camp for a lot of apprentices compared to how it used to be.   We’ve all heard it before from the older Tradies out there, ‘Back when I was an apprentice…’  So what was it like for an apprentice ‘truly’ back in the day.  In the Middle Ages…

The Start of Apprenticeships

The middle ages gave birth to apprentices as a Master Craftsmen’s work became in too high of a demand for themselves and their immediate family to churn out.  Needing extra sets of hands, but not willing to put on itinerant workers that would come and go, because of the time it took to skill them up, apprenticeships were born.

Committing Young

Solving their problem the Craftsmen of the middle ages signed-up 10 to 17 year old boys and girls (the girls often mentored by the craftsmen wife) on 7 – 9 year contracts.  *You thought your 4 or 5 year apprenticeship dragged out.  Often the apprentice would also be required to pay a premium that was non refundable if the contract was not seen through.  If they could not afford the premium they would need to convince a sponsor to pay this premium for them.  The Sponsor being responsible for the fees if an apprentice became a ‘runaway.’


Apprentices much as we do today learnt side by side from their Master, constantly watching and repeating tasks until they meet the Masters approval day in and day out.  To sign off their contract an Apprentice had to then complete a master work or a master test to progress to the next stage of their career as a journeyman.  A Journeyman was then allowed to travel around looking for work and practicing their craft with other Craftsmen or Master Craftsmen.  Though often they would stick with their Master as an employee.

Master Craftsmen

To become a Master Craftsmen, which allowed you to start your own shop, employ young people and take on apprentices you had to apply to the ‘Guild’.  The Guild was basically an organisation of ‘Masters’ who you submitted your ‘Masterpiece’ and payment to.  They voted on your Masterpiece and if accepted you became one of the Guild, if not accepted you simply remained a Journeymen the rest of your life, unless your skills improved and you then reapplied.



Photo Credit (derekskey)


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