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Almost five hundred years of apprenticeships

Published: February 26, 2016

The Cornwall College Group apprenticeships

Researchers working on a documentary looking at the history of apprenticeships in Cornwall have discovered records dating back for almost five hundred years. The film called ‘Apprenticeship Legends’ is being produced by The Cornwall College Group to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, which is due to be held in March.

Apprenticeships in England can be traced back to the medieval craft guilds in the Middle Ages, originating from the custom of wealthy parents sending children away to live with host families. In Cornwall the oldest record discovered by the producers dates from 1541 and is for a carpentry apprentice, William Helyer of Lostwithiel.

Production manager for Apprenticeship Legends, Jamie Reed, said: “Apprenticeships have been recognised as a way of training for hundreds of years and that is certainly the case here in Cornwall.  We have studied the archives at the Records Office at County Hall, interviewed families who have stories of organisations like Holman’s and spoken to former apprentices; it’s been a really emotional and enlightening journey.”

The first national apprenticeship system of training was introduced in 1563 by the Statute of Artificers, which included conditions which could be likened to apprenticeship minimum standards today; masters should have no more than three apprentices and apprenticeships should last seven years.

Jamie continued: “Conditions were tough and the indentures bound the servant to their master and vice versa; the master was personally responsible for teaching the apprentice and their welfare.  Our documentary also looked at the last 70 years of apprenticeships through Cornwall College; we’ve talked to people who are now company directors, master technicians, project managers and self-made millionaires; an apprenticeship can really take you anywhere in the world and our interviewees are proof of that.”

The Cornwall College Group is the largest provider of apprenticeships in the South West region and has recently been praised for its links with industry by Ofsted.

Principal and CEO of The Cornwall College Group, Amarjit Basi, said: “I am proud of the work we do to help provide work based learning options, supporting the regional economy.  This documentary will chart not only the history of apprenticeships in Cornwall, but reaffirm our heritage in being a significant catalyst for skills development for almost the last 100 years.

“Cornwall College was established in 1929 to meet the needs of local industries and that is something we are continuing to this day, aligning our curriculum to the needs of the South West’s evolving economy; delivering young people with real skills and qualifications.”

The film has been supported by local businesses including the Eden Project, Blue Flame and Pendennis Shipyard, with many former apprentices being interviewed for the film.  Another former apprentice featured is Tom Brown, now Head Chef at Outlaws at The Capital in London.  Tom started as an apprentice in Cornwall, washing pots and pans at a local pub; he now heads up one of the most prestigious restaurants in the country.

Tom said: “After my apprenticeship I kept the mentality of aiming for new goals, so I kept pushing myself forward and I ended up very fortunately working with Nathan Outlaw and now I’m here.  At the age of 28 years old I was offered the opportunity to run a one Michelin starred kitchen in a five star hotel in Knightsbridge; I jumped at this opportunity and I’m very lucky to be here.”

Apprenticeship Legends is going to be screened during a special film premiere at Heartlands on March 16th.

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