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Merit shops, unions air differences on new apprenticeship programs

The Associated Builders & Contractors weighed in on the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed apprenticeship program rule, which initially excludes the construction industry and military. The proposed rule would establish a process for creating high-quality, industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAP) by organizations that apply to become DOL-recognized Standards Recognition Entities. The agency would not initially accept applications from entities that create “Industry Programs” in construction, because it considers construction a sector that already has significant registered apprenticeship opportunities.

However, ABC notes, DOL figures show only 17,748 apprentices having completed federal construction apprenticeship programs in FY2018. That’s about 4 percent of the estimated 440,000 additional construction workers that need to be hired in 2019 alone to meet the existing backlog of projects under contract but not yet completed, which stood at nearly nine months mid year.

Given the massive skills gap in the United States, ABC recommends an “all-of-the-above” approach to workforce development: All Americans should be welcome to participate in the new industry programs; such programs would help address the severe worker shortage in construction, which federal registered apprenticeship programs alone are woefully inadequate to meet; the Department must not require overly burdensome reporting and data collection similar to those of the current DOL-recognized apprenticeship programs; and, DOL must clearly communicate the value of participating in the new Industry Programs.

“By excluding all construction industry-recognized workforce development programs from the proposed rule, DOL is creating a perverse disincentive to increased education opportunities and prolonging the skills shortage in the construction industry,” says ABC Vice President of Health, Safety, Environment and Workforce Development Greg Sizemore. “There is a place for both government-registered and market-driven apprenticeships in an industry that is constantly evolving through technology and process improvements. ABC and its 69 chapters are committed to educating craft, safety and management professionals using an all-of-the above workforce strategy to develop a safe, skilled and productive workforce.”

UNION TURF

Among the more vocal factions responding to the proposed rule was North America’s Building Trades Unions, whose members support the exclusion of construction in forthcoming IRAP. “This historic number of nearly 325,000 comments submitted by working men and women across the United States makes it clear that construction workers don’t want the federal government to cut wages and destroy jobs in a dangerous economic experiment,” NABTU President Sean McGarvey noted in a statement at the close of the DOL public comment period. “The message from Michigan to Florida, from Pennsylvania to New Mexico was absolutely clear: They don’t want the swamp to undermine their standard of living and the opportunity for future generations to realize the American Dream.

“Our members do not stand alone. Contractors, industry leaders, project owners, educators, safety and training professionals, investors, community advocates, faith leaders, environmental stewards, veterans, State Apprenticeship Agencies and overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress have spoken in one voice: IRAP have no place in the construction industry.”