Apprenticeship and the Rise of Europe

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Prior to the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, the apprenticeship system fostered the training and transmission of skills in a more effective and efficient manner than more traditional family-based systems. Authors David de la Croix, Matthias Doepke, Joel Mokyr examine the rise of Europe from the perspective of the institutions of training young people to work in particular trades. They conclude that the apprenticeship system was a particularly effective way of spreading new technologies, and formed the basis of the industrial revolution in Europe. From the article:

Before the Industrial Revolution, almost all useful knowledge was tacit. The main mechanism through which tacit skills were transmitted across generations was apprenticeship, a relationship linking a skilled adult to a youngster whom he taught the trade. Apprentices spent most of their waking hours in the master’s workshop, where they learned from the master and more experienced apprentices and journeymen. As apprentices spent time in the shop, they gradually acquired the skills of the master, often through imitation and guided learning-by-doing (DeMunck and Soly 2007, Steffens 2001).....Apprenticeship was the primary mechanism by which productive human capital was created in the past.

We would do well to remember this. Consider that the industrial powerhouse of Europe, Germany, has institutionalized forms of apprenticeship across its industrial training system. And Germany has a trade surplus from exporting its goods to the rest of the world. Contrast this to the over $500 billion trade deficit of these United States and consider what it is that we are doing wrong that we may learn something from Germany - is it perhaps that our corporatist form of organization is so focused on the short-term that it completely rejects training young workers in favor of hiring people who are already trained up? (That is, when they are not laying of massive swathes of working people and exporting their jobs to foreign countries). Why do we permit the greediest people to run the show and sell out our young in search of short-term profits?

About David Camp

Citizen Journalist • Member since Jul 12, 2009

David Camp is a cpa (Canada'86; USA'96) and MBA (Schulich'88) who toiled thirty years in the corporate salt mines, counting beans and telling stories to the auditors and whatnot. Now [...]