Media Release

‘Master Craftsman’ title would raise status for apprenticeships

Workers who complete apprenticeships should be allowed to call themselves “craftsman” or “craftswoman” to put their qualifications on a par with university degrees, a think-tank has said.

Holders of the most prestigious apprenticeships might be addressed as “master craftsman” or “master craftswoman” in the same way that people who complete a PhD are entitled to be called “doctor”, the report suggested

The Social Market Foundation said that British skills system should take lessons from the Middle Ages – and European nations such as Germany – to raise the status of vocational training and qualifications and help people recognise higher-level apprenticeships.

It made the suggestion in a report that found that some apprenticeships can deliver significant boosts in wages for workers, but warned that the system is still poorly understood by young people, employers and the general public.

The report, entitled “Making apprenticeships work” was carried out independently by the SMF and sponsored by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

It sets out weaknesses in the current apprenticeship system, and makes recommendations for how to improve the scheme for workers and employers.

Apprenticeships range from Level 2, the most basic, to Level 7, which is roughly equal to a Master’s degree in complexity and challenge.

The SMF found that higher-level apprenticeships can deliver significant wage increases to holders.  Entry-level schemes can deliver little or no benefit, by contrast. 

SMF analysis shows that 43% of apprentices are undertaking intermediate (Level 2) schemes which have on average delivered zero wage returns. In contrast, SMF analysis shows that having a Level 3 apprenticeship compared to having no apprenticeship increases wages by 20%.

Apprenticeships are also most popular in the sectors where they deliver the lowest returns to candidates. The ten most popular apprenticeship standards in 2017/18 include apprenticeships in care, hairdressing, customer service and hospitality. Apprenticeships in care and retail have persistently been criticised for their quality.

SMF analysis shows that Level 3 retail schemes deliver comparatively low returns whereas Level 3 apprentices in education or health and social care do not on average receive a pay premium when compared to those on the skill level below.

In 2017, only a minority of apprentices reported that undertaking training in education (33%), leisure (37%), health (40%) or retail (42%) report receiving a pay rise afterwards. By contrast, 71% of apprentices in construction and 65% in engineering saw their wages rise.

Because the system is poorly understood, some candidates may be starting apprenticeships without realising the scheme might deliver only limited gains, the SMF said. It also warned that low returns on low-level apprenticeships risk undermining confidence in the whole policy.

The SMF said that new measures are needed to make clear to candidates and the wider public that higher apprenticeships are demanding qualifications that can lead to senior jobs and higher wages.  New titles for holders could add status to apprenticeships

The report said:

“We suggest that labels are given further consideration so that they can gain popular currency and can act as simple signals to candidates and employers. When apprenticeships were first introduced in England in the middle ages, apprentices trained to become a ‘Journeyman’ under the supervision of a ‘Master Craftsman’.

“Many European countries have successfully incorporated more gradation into the terminology of their apprenticeship structure to distinguish the most accomplished apprentices from entry-level apprentices. In Austria and Germany, individuals who complete their apprenticeship have an option to obtain a master craftsperson qualification.”

The Institute for Apprenticeships should consider the case for new “labelling” of apprenticeships by level, the SMF said, to help holders signal to employers and the public how qualified they are, just as university degrees do.

Nicole Gicheva, author of the report, said:

“The best apprenticeships are highly challenging and prestigious qualifications which deliver significant returns to their holders, while some other apprenticeships do not.  We need a better system to explain those differences.

“Clear new titles for apprenticeship holders might also help address Britain’s cultural bias against technical and vocational qualifications.  Many people know the difference between a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree, and we call someone with a PhD ‘doctor’.  Higher-level apprenticeships rank alongside university degrees, and their holders should have titles which reflect that.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The report was supported by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. The SMF retained full editorial independence and is committed to naming all its financial supporters. 

Media Contacts:

James Kirkup, SMF director: and 07815 706 601

Barbara Lambert, SMF media officer: and 020 7222 7060


About the SMF:

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is a non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets. The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this. 


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