The Evolution of Apprenticeship

Did you know the tradition of apprenticeship dates back to ancient Mesopotamia?

Thousands of years ago in Babylon, a famous city in Mesopotamia, the art of apprenticeship started taking shape. The relationship between an artisan and his apprentice was actually supported by law. It was required that the apprentice be treated like a son. This created a strong kinship between master and student.

Apprenticeship also played an essential role in the construction and the arts of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It is likely that apprentices assisted in the design and construction of marvels such as the pyramids in Egypt, the Parthenon in Athens, and the Colosseum in Rome.

Fast-forward to the Industrial Revolution. The advent of machines created a need for skilled workers—such as machinists—as well as semiskilled workers. If a semiskilled worker showed enough aptitude, he would be trained and advance to a skilled worker’s job. During this time, apprenticeships grew in importance as trade unions were developed.

In the early 20th century, apprenticeship remained a necessary part of specialized industries even though automation began to increase the number of jobs not requiring formal instruction. After World War I, some industries began offering a system of upgrading. The concept was simple: laborers or unskilled workers could begin skilled work only after serving as an assistant to a skilled worker. This offered the opportunity to advance in the industry.

Soon legislation was established to protect apprentices and support apprenticeship programs. In 1937, the U.S. Congress passed the National Apprenticeship Act in an effort to safeguard apprentices. In the same year, the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training was created within the Department of Labor.

Today’s apprenticeship programs are much different than those in ancient times, but they still play an important role in our country’s economic and infrastructural growth. In the U.S., there are approximately 533,000 apprentices spanning a variety of trades. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the electrical industry is expected to experience a 23% growth rate for electricians between 2010 and 2020. This rate is higher than the national average.

According to the Department of Labor, in FY2017 more than 64,000 students graduated from the apprenticeship system. Within the construction sector, there are more than 175,000 active apprentices. If you separate by occupation, there are more than 45,000 electrician apprentices.

IEC Apprenticeship

IEC has more than 50 chapter training centers nationwide and is providing training to more than 12,000 apprentices in 2019. This is this highest IEC has seen in its history and it is only expected to increase.

Because IEC students are taught by instructors with extensive experience in their field, they graduate with the skills and knowledge to work in many different environments—indoor and outdoor, hazardous and nonhazardous, low-voltage/limited energy, medical, residential, commercial, and industrial. Technology is evolving quickly and often within all of these sectors. To keep up, IEC continues to augment its Four-Year curriculum and Electrical & Systems Training Series (ESTS).

Digital content in IEC’s programs has increased and evolved. In addition to an online learning platform undergoing constant content population, industry partners have offered a variety of digital resources to propel IEC’s apprentices in and out of the classroom. Some of these resources are visual aids, flashcards, in-class and homework activities, videos, and e-books.

For ESTS, new courses are in development to cover low-voltage/limited energy. In the future, the ESTS program intends to offer courses addressing renewables, such as solar and wind.

A Teaching Model Unchanged

Although apprenticeships no longer focus on building terra cotta shrines or carving marble sculptures, the teaching model remains the same—a master craftsman sharing knowledge and experience with a student. With a little ambition, an apprentice electrician can work toward becoming a journeyman electrician, a foreman, a project manager, a Master Electrician, or even the owner of an electrical contracting company. To be an apprentice today translates to exciting opportunities tomorrow.