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9 November 2002

Read John Cole's apprenticeship experiences

When Stanley Gorin signed his indenture papers in 1954, he promised to "faithfully, honestly and diligently serve the Master, and obey and perform all lawful commands and requirements and keep his secrets..."

Stanley Gorin (second from right)

His apprenticeship as a printer in a London firm that typeset advertisements for Fleet Street was to last six years: as an apprentice in 1954 he earned only a quarter of the adult rate.

John Cole was himself an apprentice at the Belfast Telegraph in the 1940s and he speaks to other apprentices who found they were sweeping the floors, making the tea or placing bets for their elders: his equivalent of sweeping the floors was reporting flower shows.

There emerges a picture of a workplace where the 16-year-old boy, for they were mostly boys, grew into manhood. The oldest apprentice in the programme, Tony Henniker, now in his nineties, was an apprentice at Rolls Royce for which his father paid a premium of £350. There was a strong belief that if you put up with the low wages today you would gain a trade that would stand you in good stead for life.

Tony Henniker

In many companies the apprenticeships were much sought after and there was stiff competition: Brian Patterson was determined to be a shipwright and sat the dockyard examination twice in order to fulfil that ambition.

Apprentices recall with affection those who taught them, often tricked them and were distinctly tough on them. As Brian Patterson puts it: "You were tomorrow's craftsmen".

Additional information

Joan Lane
Apprenticeship in England 1600-1914
UCL Press (1996)

Charles More
Skill and the English Working Class, 1870-1914
Croom Helm (1980)

Ainley, P and Rainbird, H (eds)
Apprenticeship: Towards a New Paradigm of Learning
Kogan Page (1999)

Evans, K, Hodkinson, P and Unwin, L (eds)
Working to Learn: Transforming Workplace Learning
Kogan Page (2002)

Unwin, L and Wellington, J
Young People's Perspectives on Education, Training and Employment
Kogan Page (2001)

Fuller, A and Unwin, L,
From cordwainers to customer service: the changing relationship between apprentices, employers and communities in England SKOPE Monograph No 3, Universities of Oxford and Warwick, 2000

Fuller, A and Unwin, L "Learning as Apprentices in the Contemporary UK Workplace: creating and managing expansive and restrictive participation", Journal of Education and Work, 2003, in press

Ryan, P and Unwin, L, "Apprenticeship in the British Training Market", National Institute Economic Review, No.178, 2001, pp.99-114, 2001

Fuller, A and Unwin L, "Modern Apprenticeship: a critique of the UK¹s multi-sector and social inclusion approach", Journal of Education and Work, 16:1, 2003, in press

Howard Gospel, "The Decline of Apprenticeship Training in Britain", Industrial Relations Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1, March 1995, pp. 32-45

Howard Gospel, "The Revival of Apprenticeship Training in Britain?", British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 36, No. 3, September 1998, pp. 435-57

Professor Lorna Unwin, Centre for Labour Market Studies, research project on apprenticeship is part of an ESRC funded research network on Improving Incentives for Workplace Learning.

Centre for Labour Market Studies at the University of Leicester looking at training, human resource development and vocational education.

Read John's apprenticeship experiences
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John Cole, the BBC's former political editor, has been a journalist for more than 50 years. He served his own apprenticeship on the Belfast Telegraph in the late 1940s, and covered industrial affairs there, in Manchester and in London, latterly as Labour correspondent of The Guardian.

His other jobs have included: political correspondent on the Belfast Telegraph; news editor and deputy editor on The Guardian; deputy editor of The Observer; and political editor for the BBC.

He has written four books: The Poor of the Earth (on Third World employment); The Thatcher Years; As It Seemed to Me (a political memoir); and A Clouded Peace (a novel). He has honorary doctorates from St Andrew's, the Open University, Queen's Belfast, and the University of Ulster.

He is married to Madge and they have four sons and eight grandchildren.

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