Labor Department apprenticeship program rule respects construction trades’ turf

A Department of Labor rule effective next month establishes a system to advance development of Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAP) and guidelines for third-party stakeholders to become Standards Recognition Entities (SRE). The rule reflects input from a July-August 2019 public comment period during which the Department’s Employment and Training Administration logged a record 326,798 responses.

SRE candidates include trade groups, companies, educational institutions, state or local governments, non-profits, unions, joint labor-management organizations, plus professional or industry certification and accreditation bodies. Labor Department-recognized SRE will work with employers to craft and monitor IRAP that provide apprentices with industry credentials. Individuals will be able to obtain workplace-relevant training and progressively advancing skills that result in an industry-recognized credential—all while getting paid for their work. IRAP will serve as a complement to a Registered Apprenticeship program that has been in place for over 80 years. The industry-led, market-driven SRE approach outlined in the final rule will give employers and other stakeholders flexibility necessary to expand the apprenticeship model into other sectors and address the diverse workforce needs of different industries or occupations.

A June 2017 Executive Order from President Donald Trump spawned a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. It guided writing of the rule, which prohibits SRE from recognizing IRAP in the apprenticeship program-rich construction sector. In a statement on his coalition’s role in shaping the final rule as a task force participant, North America’s Building Trade Unions President Sean McGarvey noted, “As we engaged in deliberations, we had two goals in mind—to impart our wisdom, experience and subject matter expertise from the Registered system, and to ensure that the integrity of the Registered Apprenticeship system in our industry not be watered down. With the issuance of the final rule, we now see we were able to protect our industry’s successful programs.

“Building trades unions, working together with contractors, spend more than $1 billion per year funding a nationwide network of nearly 1,600 teaching centers. The industry understands the benefits of a skilled workforce and is willing to pay to teach its workers. Given the widespread and effective nature of our privately financed and jointly managed registered programs for the construction industry, the final rule recognizes our rightful place as the standard bearer in the workforce development space.”

“Nearly 16,000 iron workers who joined workers from other trades, socially responsible companies, and elected officials from both parties won this important protection for the high quality registered apprenticeship program training,” added International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers General President Eric Dean. “IRAPs threatened to undercut seasoned Registered Apprenticeship programs in the building trades. The Iron Workers will defend the integrity of the construction exemption and remain vigilant to the threat IRAPs pose to manufacturing workers in our union working for thousands of American steel fabricators.”

“All U.S. workers should have the opportunity to participate in DOL’s new industry programs, particularly as federal registered apprenticeship programs supply only a small fraction of the construction industry’s workforce,” countered Associated Builders & Contractors Vice President of Health, Safety, Environment and Workforce Development Greg Sizemore. “ABC, our 69 chapters and 21,000-plus members will continue to utilize an all-of-the-above education approach to ensure our workforce meets the highest standards for safety and quality craftsmanship, which has been and will remain our top priority. ABC members invested $1.6 billion to educate their employees in 2018, up from $1.1 billion in 2013, according to the results of ABC’s 2019 Workforce Development Survey. The 45 percent increase in spending resulted in nearly twice as many course attendees—more than 980,000—receiving craft, leadership and safety education to advance their careers in commercial and industrial construction.”

“Apprenticeships are widely recognized to be a highly effective job-training approach for American workers and employers seeking the skilled workforce needed in today’s changing workplace,” says Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia. “This new rule offers employers, community colleges, and others a flexible, innovative way to quickly expand apprenticeships in sectors where [they] currently are not widely available.”

The department will begin accepting SRE applications through an online portal next month. Before the rule goes into effect, entities will be able to consult with and receive technical assistance from agency staff about preparing their applications and can begin putting an application together so it is ready to submit as soon the rule is effective. —