DOL Takes Major Actions to Boost Apprenticeship Programs

DOL published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish a process to advance the development of high-quality industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) and is awarding $183.8 million to 23 academic institutions partnering with companies that provide a funding match component. DOL also will make available an additional $100 million for efforts to expand apprenticeships and close the skills gap.

The U.S. Department of Labor has taken two major actions aimed at expanding apprenticeships in the United States. One is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish a process for DOL to advance the development of high-quality industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs). The second is $183.8 million in awards the agency is giving to 23 academic institutions partnering with companies that provide a funding match component, and DOL also will make available an additional $100 million for efforts to expand apprenticeships and close the skills gap.

The award recipients are planning programs focused on advanced manufacturing, health care, and information technology.

The department is issuing a revised Training and Employment Notice that will subsequently be accompanied by an application for entities seeking to recognize IRAPs.

"The apprenticeship model of earning while learning has worked well in many American industries, and today we open opportunities for apprenticeships to flourish in new sectors of our economy," Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said. "With 7.4 million open jobs and job creators searching for skilled job seekers, apprenticeship expansion will continue to close the skills gap and strengthen the greatest workforce in the world, the American workforce."

These actions developed from an executive order signed by President Donald J. Trump on June 15, 2017. It charged the secretary of Labor to consider establishing guidelines or requirements that qualified entities should or must follow to ensure that apprenticeship programs they recognize meet quality standards. The executive order created a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion that submitted recommendations in May 2018 on how to best expand the apprenticeship model in America. The new NPRM reflects key recommendations contained in the final report of the task force.

Under the proposed rule, entities such as trade, industry, and employer groups or associations, educational institutions, state and local government entities, non-profit organizations, unions, or a consortium or partnership of these entities could become a Standards Recognition Entity that sets standards for training, structure, and curricula for IRAPs in relevant industries or occupational areas. The SREs would be recognized through DOL to ensure that its requirements are met. According to DOL's news release, the department's criteria for high-quality IRAPs include paid work, work-based learning, mentorship, education and instruction, industry-recognized credentials, safety and supervision, and adhering to equal employment opportunity obligations.

But the chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, Stephen E. Sandherr, criticized the department's decision to exclude the construction industry from the Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Program. "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 new apprenticeship proposal," Sandherr said in a statement. "Instead of opening new routes for many thousands of Americans to embark on high-paying construction careers, the administration has instead opted to exclude one of the largest single sectors of the economy from what is supposed to be their signature workforce initiative. While there are multiple paths into the industry, the fact is that it remains too difficult for many firms and their partners to establish apprenticeship programs for construction workers. Barriers for apprenticeship programs often include the excessive costs incurred during the rigid and inflexible registration process. Had construction been included in this initiative, many more Americans would have had the option to master construction crafts via the proven apprenticeship model. Instead the administration is sending a clear message that contractors need not apply. It is troubling that the administration says that the construction industry would not “initially” be eligible for consideration without providing any compelling rationale as to why the industry has been excluded. Furthermore, there is no enumeration of the factors that would be considered to permit construction training programs to be included in the apprenticeship expansion program in the future."

The additional $100 million in grant funds is authorized by Section 414(c) of the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) for the Apprenticeships: Closing the Skills Gap grant program. DOL intends to fund up to 30 apprenticeship grants, with awards ranging from $500,000 to $6 million. Grants may be local/regional, statewide, or national in scale, and funding will depend on the proposed geographic scope of the apprenticeship project.

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