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History of Apprentices

The apprenticeship system dates back to the Middle Ages where groups of skilled crafts persons would come together to form guilds in order to protect the quality, standard and therefore price of their craft.

Apprentices in those early beginnings were ‘indentured’ like a slave to an employer; the apprentice had no rights and was usually paid poorly for the privilege of learning a trade from a ‘master’. Corporal punishment was common by the employers. Remnants of this system were still around in the 1970s when it was still common place for a parent to pay employers for the privilege of an apprenticeship place.

From these difficult beginnings Apprentices have over time fought back for fairness and decency. Their action has not always been easily supported by other tradespersons or the general community at large. Many would say, “why shouldn’t they put up with it, we did?” Some believe that being treated badly was part of the process, a rite of passage for young apprentices. However as with all campaigns persistent work in generating support from the broader community and explaining the issues to other workers generally paid off.

The apprenticeship system today has grown up. Today it serves a far different purpose; industry recognises that this method for teaching- on the job training remains one of the best ways to learn a trade.


Timeline outlining the progression of Apprentices rights and conditions;

1900s In 1907 Apprentice rates were established for the first time during the ‘harvestor decision’. Justice Higgins determined that when establishing rates of pay of a worker one must look at a fair and reasonable living wage. Justice Higgins also determined the importance of being trained in the full skills of the trade.

1920s In 1921 the ‘Metals’ Award (Manufacturing award) set minimum rates for apprentices over a 5 year period. This award also provided for 4 hours training within the working day.

1930s Sick and annual leave were introduced for Apprentices. Apprentices 25shillings per week were to be adjusted proportionally to the basic wage and reviewed quarterly.

1940s Justice O’Mara set Apprentice wages as a percentage of the basic wage. Quotas for Apprentices were determined- one apprentice to every three tradesmen.

1950s Unions campaigned for tech training to be conducted during the day in “The days are for Tech, the nights are for love” campaign. 1955 saw a significant increase in pay for now a 4 year term apprentices.

1960s Apprentice wages were keyed off fitter’s rate as opposed to the basic wage.

1970s In 1979 the apprentice wage relativities were set in place, they still remain the same today.

1980s Australian traineeships and adult apprentices defined as aged 21 and above in the Metals Industry award 1984.

1990’s Unions were successful in lifting the minimum award rate for apprentices by 20 per cent after inflation.

2000’s School based apprenticeships were included in the award. 2006 introduced multiple junior apprentice entry points based on the additional education and training of year 11 and year 12 school leavers.