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craft apprenticeshipthe traditional method of learning a craft in Britain (and often elsewhere), in which the trainee was attached by a legally-binding agreement, the ‘indenture’, to a master for a specific number of years as an unpaid worker. The goal of an apprentice was to become a master craftsman. However, an intermediate stage existed, that of ‘journeyman’, and, in practice, this was often the limit of the achievement of many craft workers. Connected with the earlier medieval system of craft guilds, as well as being a method of passing on the technical skills and ‘trade secrets’ associated with a particular craft, the system of craft apprenticeship was also a way of controlling entry into a craft (see also LABOUR ARISTOCRACY; compare PROFESSION and TRADE UNIONS).
In modern times, with the spread of industrialism and factory production, craft apprenticeship continues to exist, although it is in part transformed. In recent years, however, the association of the system with restrictive practices, and its being regarded in some quarters as a barrier to technical change and the more flexible management of labour, has led to the virtual dismantling of apprenticeship as a general system for the training of skilled craft labour. Its replacement, in the UK at least, has been with a system of training based on colleges and ad hoc agencies, and not with a systematic pattern of skills training of the kind that exists in some other countries, e.g. Germany. See also DESKILLING, LABOUR PROCESS.