'Modern' apprenticeships have been in place in Britain since 1994. However, the social characteristics of 'modern' apprentices appear remarkably similar to those of traditional apprentices: 89% of the first wave of modern apprentices were male; and only 3% from ethnic minorities. As will be shown subsequently, such exclusivity is deep-set within the British apprenticeship system. It is interesting to note that most previous analyses of modern apprenticeships have described this situation in a variety of ways but failed to grasp its significance. The lack of commitment by the Conservative Government, headed by John Major, to issues of social exclusion has been well documented. This is seen clearly in the Department of Education and Employment's report into the early stages of modern apprenticeships. Their discussion of social exclusion and modern apprenticeships is perfunctory and their recommendations merely boil down to exhortations to various institutions to increase the proportion of apprenticeships from ethnic minority backgrounds and who are female. In this they reproduce the timidity of the Commission for Racial Equality. The main purpose of this article is to situate the continuation of patterns of ethnic and gender exclusivity in British apprenticeships within a broad historical and comparative perspective. It will be shown that ethnic and gender exclusion is central to apprenticeship structures historically in both Britain and America. Further, it will be shown that these structures are breaking down to a considerable degree in the United States, more for women than for ethnic minorities, and that the catalysts and institutional changes that have helped precipitate these developments in the United States hold important lessons for contemporary Britain.