Survey: White House rule discourages construction apprenticeship participation

An Associated Builders & Contractors survey finds the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) controversial, 180,000-plus word proposed rule overhauling regulations related to government-registered apprenticeship programs (GRAPs) will discourage apprentices, contractors and ABC chapter apprenticeship program providers from participating in the Department-backed system.

“Initial feedback on changes to apprenticeship regulations has been overwhelmingly negative and these survey results make it clear that the DOL’s proposed rule will ultimately weaken a key ingredient in the construction industry’s all-of-the-above solution to its short- and long-term skilled workforce shortage,” says ABC Vice President of Regulatory, Labor and State Affairs Ben Brubeck. “Government-registered apprenticeship system stakeholders—apprentices, contractors and apprenticeship providers such as ABC member contractors or chapters—were hoping for solutions to make it easier to establish and administer GRAPs, with the goal of expanding GRAP capacity to recruit more apprentices and meet industry workforce needs. Instead, the DOL’s unhelpful proposal will do just the opposite.”

ABC survey results indicate:

  • 90 percent of member contractor respondents would be less likely to start their own company-run GRAP as a result of the DOL’s proposed changes;
  • 94 percent of all respondents believe the proposed rule will increase the cost of participating in or starting a GRAP;
  • 96 percent of all respondents see new recordkeeping and reporting requirements making them less likely to participate in or start their own GRAP;
  • 95 percent of all respondents see apprentice participation and completion in GRAPs is less likely as a result of the DOL’s proposal; and,
  • 98 percent of all respondents feel small businesses are less likely to participate or continue participating in GRAPs as a result of the DOL’s proposed changes.

“It is no secret that America’s government-registered apprenticeship system—which ABC’s analysis of government data suggests had an enrollment of 250,000 apprentice participants and graduated between 40,000 and 45,000 apprentices in FY 2023—isn’t keeping up with construction industry demand for skilled craft professionals,” Brubeck observes. “As currently written, the White House proposal threatens to undermine significant investments recently made by taxpayers in infrastructure, clean energy and manufacturing projects procured by government and private developers.”

“Among many concerns expressed by survey participants, the proposal will discourage employer and provider participation in the GRAP system by needlessly adding more uncertainty and costs in the form of new recordkeeping and reporting requirements, while also eliminating popular flexible, competency-based approaches to workforce development that are attractive to apprentices and employers,” he adds.

The survey results also bring to light concerning examples of how unions and government regulators work in tandem to enact policies that needlessly delay or even prohibit nonunion apprenticeship programs from getting approved and prevent contractors from winning contracts to build taxpayer-funded construction projects if they are not participants in union-affiliated GRAPs, ABC contends. More than a fourth of respondents reported to have personally experienced an example of a government’s GRAP requirements or policies being weaponized to cut competition from certain contractors and/or discriminate against certain GRAPs not affiliated with unions.

“Participants shared troubling stories about how state and local governments and union lobbyists have worked together to enact corrupt apprenticeship polices in order to steer taxpayer-funded contracts and government grants to certain unionized contractors and union-run apprenticeship programs,” Brubeck concludes. “The White House proposal does little to stop this perversion and further politicization of the apprenticeship system and likely sets the table for future misbehavior.” ABC champions government-registered apprenticeships as part of a diverse, all-of-the-above solution to workforce development needs that only together can solve the construction industry’s demand for skilled craft professionals, as well as engineers, estimators and project managers, he adds.

ABC chapters are educating craft, safety and management professionals using innovative and flexible learning models like just-in-time task training, competency-based progression and work-based learning. Concurrently, more than 450 federal and state GRAPs in 20-plus occupations aim to develop a safe, skilled and productive workforce. ABC members invested an estimated $1.5 billion in industry workforce development to upskill 1.3 million course attendees in 2022, including hundreds of GRAPs administered independently by ABC member companies.

U.S. Department of Labor safety investigators found an Alabama brick producer exposed workers to silica crystalline respiratory hazards that have the potential to lead to lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary or kidney disease. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited clay products operator Henry Brick Co. Inc. with 11 serious citations and proposed $124,212 in penalties. Specifically, the agency found the employer:

  • Exposed workers to airborne concentrations of respirable crystalline silica of up to 6.5 times the permissible exposure level;
  • Failed to evaluate and implement engineering controls and work practices to reduce and maintain employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica to or below the permissible exposure;
  • Failed to provide effective training on crystalline silica to employees exposed over the permissible exposure level;
  • Neglected to offer free medical surveillance, at a reasonable time and place, to employees exposed to respirable crystalline silica above the action level for 30 or more days per year;
  • Required employees to wear respirators without first providing the required training;
  • Neglected to fit test or provide medical evaluation for workers required to wear respirators; and,
  • Allowed employees to work in areas that required respirators without providing a respiratory protection program that met requirements.

“Crystalline silica can be deadly. Workers who are overexposed to it can contract incurable, progressively disabling and sometimes fatal illnesses. This is why employers must take every precaution to protect employees from this danger,” said OSHA Area Office Director Jose Gonzalez in Mobile. “Employers with questions about how to develop respiratory protection programs can contact our trained professionals for assistance.”