SweGGate Facts Society Working life

Working Life in old Sweden

Craftsmen's Training Employee Recruitment
Lärling -> Gesäll -> Mästare
The training stages of craftsmen

The training to become a skilled craftsman, like shoe-maker, carpenter, tailor, blacksmith etc. can be separated into 3 stages.

You start off as a lärling = trainee, apprentice. In the old times this meant that you were accepted by a master of the trade and you learned the skills by working for him under his supervision. As craftsmen schools later become available this stage also include theoretical education.

When a lärling was deemed ready he was allowed to present his gesällprov = a piece of work showing as much as possible of his skills. For a carpenter this could be an elaborate secretaire (writing-desk) with hidden compartments.

The work was presented to a jury and some other type of examination was often performed as well. In modern times this examination is standardized and includes both theoretical and practical tests. After passing this test the lärling is named gesäll and is awarded a diploma, the gesällbrev.

With this you are considered fully qualified to work in the trade. After working for several years, preferably with a master you can take a master exam (mästarprov) and if you pass you are awarded a diploma, mästarbrev and can  use the title mästare (master)

In the old times only a few persons of each trade were allowed by the guilds to set up shop in each area.

Examples of gesäller in Swedish:
Apoteks-, Badar-, Bagar-, Barberar-, Bleckslagar-, Bokvindar-, Boktryckar-, Bergs-, Hovslagar-, Kock-, Kopparslagar-, Murar-, Målar-, Plåtslagare-, Skomakar-, Skräddar-, Smed-, Stenhuggar-, Trädgårds-, Tunnbindar-, Vagnmakar-  -gesäll.
Examples of master craftsmen in Swedish:
Snickar-, Glas-, Smed-, Skräddar-, Urmakar-  -mästare.
You can replace the word mästare with gesäll to get the title for a gesäll of the respective trades. Some combinations used a joining "e", e.g. skräddaregesäll in older language.

As far as I know there are no archives saving copies of those diplomas. There may however be a register of the people who passed the exams. Someone please tell me !

A list of occupations currently issuing these diplomas can be found here for gesällbrev and here for mästarbrev

Regulation of May 10, 1813
"Kongl. Maj:ts och Rikets Commerce-Collegii Kungörelse, angående Gesällers skyldighet, at wara skattskrifne och med behörigt Pass försedde, innan de äga rättighet at förändra vistelse-ort, eller til godo njuta Skrå-Författningarne;
(Regulation given by the Royal Chamber of Commerce re: obligation for journeymen to be registered for taxation and to have a valid passport before changing residence or enjoy the benefits of the guild.)
The master is obliged to check the passport of every new journeyman and if he has no passport report the journeyman to the Magistrate. Failing to report will result in a fine of 6 riksdaler, 32 skilling (as regulated in regulation of Febr 27, 1804) 

Employer required to report unemployed persons
On Febr 27, 1804 a regulation was issued stating that employers will be fined 6 riksdaler, 32 skilling if they lodge or hide an unemployed person. 

In the labour laws of 1838 the priest is forbidden to issue a flyttningsbevis if an employed person fails to present a certificate of termination of employment.

Employee Recruitment

In old times the information about vacant positions or "help wanted" certainly travelled only by word-of-mouth since most people could not read. As reading skills rapidly improved in the early 18th century (thanks to the husförhör) there could be posters, e.g. by the church which everyone visited at least once a week.

Vårmarknad  & Höstmarknad
Another meeting point where most people met were the regular market events - at least one each spring and fall. These were important events in everyone's life - the young ones had fun and got special treats - the adults traded animals, foods, handicraft objects, used goods etc. Since "everyone" attended this was a good opportunity to announce or look for job opportunities, especially farm and household positions.

The guilds very early organized job exchange services for their members.

The rapidly expanding industries in the 2nd half of the 19th century required a lot of manpower as well as replacement employees because the turn-over was fairly high. This need was met by either recruitment employees in the big companies or private recruitment agencies = kommissionärer
As from 1884 these agencies / agents had to be government licensed. 

Public employment agencies
As the need increased the society created public agencies owned by the kommun (start 1902). The central government started supervising and subsidizing this in 1906 (Socialstyrelsen). In the 1940's there were about 160 offices throughout the country as well as many hired agents. The system was called Sveriges offentliga arbetsförmedling. The services are free for the people looking for jobs.

Private job centres
started in the 2nd half of the 19th century and continued until 1950 when all private job exchange for a fee was outlawed. After 1935 no new agencies/agents were licensed.
Until then there were many agencies with different fee structure, some provided services for free.

Another service which has developed in the last century is companies employing people who are then leased for a specified time by other companies or institutions when they need temporary workers.

There will be further articles on the subject coming up. You can influence the content by sending questions / requests to me.

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Last updated by F Hae 2005-07-07 00:48 © Fredrik Haeffner, 2001-4