by Dieter Thomas, Director - B.C. Horticulture Centre
"APPRENTICESHIP, in law, a contract by which a person called a master, who understands some art, trade or business, undertakes to teach the same to another person, commonly a minor, and called the apprentice, who, on his part, is bound to serve the master, during a definite period of time, in such art, trade or business."
The Encyclopedia Americana, Canadian Edition, 1952
Apprenticeship is one of the world's oldest educational institutions. Long before this definition was published in 1952, the Craft Guilds of Europe used the apprenticeship system to pass on the skills of using tools or processes in the manufacture of products from one generation to the next. Craft Guilds came into existence about the beginning of the 12th century. Their members were divided into three groups: masters, journeymen and apprentices. The apprentices were the beginners in the trade who learned under the direction of their masters and usually lived in the master's house where room and board was provided in return for labour. After an apprentice had completed his training, he would become a journeyman and work for a fixed wage. Eventually, a journeyman could also become a master and carry on the tradition of passing on the knowledge and skill to the next generation of apprentices.
The relationship between the master and his apprentice was referred to as "Indentured Servitude." The contract was unbreakable and for a fixed period. In most cases, contracts were not signed by the parties but "indentured." An apprentice, who was commonly unable to read or write, would use an impression of his teeth on the seal of the contract to verify his commitment to his master.
Today, we define apprenticeship as a "ůsystem of learning the skills of a craft or trade from experts in the field by working with them for a set period of time."
Encarta 98 Encyclopedia
Gone are the terms "servitude" and "master" and we are more politically correct when we call trades people "journey persons," recognizing the fact that women are making important contributions to many trades. In our time, apprentices are paid a wage and are no longer the "property" of their masters. However, the word "indentured" remains as a gentle reminder of the commitment between the apprentice and his/her employer.
Many of us (including myself) have gone through apprenticeship training and have experienced the guidance and caring support from our trainers. During my training, the last hour of each work shift was set aside for dreaded plant identification. With the discipline of a drill marshal, my supervisor fired questions at me, corrected my Latin pronunciation and showered me with praise when I got the names right. He taught me how to handle tools correctly, how to water plants, how to repair greenhouses and (most importantly) how to be patient as a learner.
Increasingly, employers and employees are rediscovering the value and benefit of this system of learning. In horticulture alone the number of apprentices province-wide has increased from 55 in 1993 to 175 in 1998. All have recognized the advantages of on-the-job training.
If you are an employer, I encourage you to consider passing on the knowledge and skills you have gained through years of experience in the industry; to consider apprenticeship as a means to carry on a tradition of excellence in horticultural production and service.
If you have apprentices, I encourage you to spend time with them. It is imperative to this industry that you invest your time and energy in the training of the next generation of horticulture leaders.If you are an employee, I encourage you to take the step into apprenticeship and to learn with interest and motivation.
Apprenticeship has been around for 800 years - 3,200 generations of apprentices can't be wrong - it's a proven way to learn.
Turf Line News October/November 1998
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