Proposed apprenticeship enlists associations, sidesteps construction

A Labor Department Notice of Proposed Rulemaking calls for empowering agency staff to advance development of industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAP), and a trade association or other not-for-profit organization to function as a Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) that sets standards for IRAP training, structure, and curricula in relevant industries or occupational areas—excepting construction.

“At a time when the vast majority of construction firms report having a hard time finding qualified workers to hire, it is deeply troubling that the Trump administration has opted to not include the sector in its apprenticeship proposal,” noted Associated General Contractors of America CEO Steve Sandherr. “Instead of opening new routes for many thousands of Americans to embark on high-paying construction careers, the administration has opted to exclude one of the largest single sectors of the economy from what is supposed to be their signature workforce initiative.”

“Given the massive skills gap in the United States, the administration missed an opportunity to embrace an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to workforce development,” added Associated Builders & Contractors CEO Mike Bellaman. “Established industry recognized apprenticeship programs have been utilized by the merit shop construction industry for decades to provide hardworking Americans with not just a job, but a well-paid, in-demand construction career.”

Under the proposed rulemaking, SRE outside the construction industry would be recognized through the Labor Department to ensure that agency requirements are met—mirroring an existing relationship between the Education Department and higher education accrediting bodies. The Department would ensure that SRE have the capacity and quality-assurance processes and procedures needed to monitor IRAP.

Stepped up workforce development measures stem from President Trump’s June 2017 Executive Order instructing the Labor Secretary to consider establishing guidelines or requirements that qualified entities should or must follow to ensure that apprenticeship programs they recognize meet quality standards. It created a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion through which representatives of business, labor, educational institutions, trade associations, and public officials could offer recommendations on how to best expand the apprenticeship model. Task Force recommendations were delivered to the White House in May 2018 and are reflected in the Proposed Rulemaking.