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Story: Apprenticeships and trade training

In the 19th century employers didn’t have to pay their apprentices, but they were supposed to feed and clothe them, and make sure they went to church. Conditions have changed for 21st-century apprentices, but the core of what they do – learn a trade – remains the same.

Story by Jeremy Baker
Main image: Hairdressing apprentice, 1976

Story Summary

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Early apprentices

European settlers brought with them the apprenticeship system – where young people worked alongside a skilled tradesperson, learning from them for a number of years. Employers were expected to provide food and clothes, but didn’t always pay their apprentices. Almost all apprentices were male, and worked in trades such as building, printing or saddle-making.

From the 1890s apprentices’ pay and work conditions were covered by agreements in each industry. In the early 20th century, with the introduction of electricity and motor cars, many trades changed and new trades were created, such as electrical engineering.

Apprenticeship law

The Apprenticeship Act 1923 made apprenticeships more formal. Local committees set standards and conditions. Apprenticeships usually lasted three to five years, and included some training at technical schools (polytechnics).

Changes in apprenticeship

Many people trained as apprentices after the Second World War, as there was a shortage of skilled workers and a trade was considered a good career. Most were still male, and most were Pākehā.

From the late 1960s trades were no longer considered such a good career, and by the 1980s apprentice numbers declined significantly.

Industry training organisations

From 1992 industry training organisations (ITOs) were set up in each industry to set standards and provide training. Traineeships were offered in some new areas such as tourism and social services. Trainees were assessed on the skills they had learned, rather than the length of time they served.

Modern Apprenticeships

The Modern Apprenticeships scheme, which began in 2002, aimed to combine ITO training with traditional workplace-based apprenticeships. In the early 2000s the number of apprentices was increasing again.

How to cite this page:

Jeremy Baker, 'Apprenticeships and trade training', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/apprenticeships-and-trade-training (accessed 1 May 2017)

Story by Jeremy Baker, published 11 Mar 2010