The Department of Labor released a proposal last June that would largely turn over responsibility for apprenticeship programs to business groups, colleges and other entities.
Under the proposed rule, trade, industry, and employer groups or associations, educational institutions, state and local government entities, nonprofit 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 industry-recognized apprenticeship programs in relevant industries or occupational areas.
The SREs would be recognized through the U.S. Department of Labor to ensure that its requirements are met, resulting in only high-quality apprenticeship programs, according to a DOL press release. This is a similar relationship to the one that exists between the U.S. Department of Education and higher education accrediting bodies.
With existing registered apprentice programs, the DOL or a state government sets those standards.
One shortfall of the plan is that it excludes construction from the new apprenticeship framework, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.
“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,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the trade group’s CEO, in a press release. “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.”
The proposal is subject to a 60-day public comment period, after which the department can issue the final rule, which could occur as soon as this fall.
On June 15, 2017, President Trump signed Executive Order 13801 charging 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 included representatives of business, labor, educational institutions, trade associations, and public officials and invited them to offer their recommendations on how to best expand the apprenticeship model in America. The Task Force recommendations were transmitted to the President on May 10, 2018.
In addition to the proposed rule, the DOL is awarding $183.8 million in Scaling Apprenticeship Through Sector-Based Strategies grants to private-public apprenticeship partnerships in information technology, advanced manufacturing, and healthcare. The grants are funded through H-1B visa fees, which are paid to bring foreign workers to America when Americans cannot be found to fill open jobs.
These grants will support the training of more than 85,000 apprentices in new or expanded apprenticeship programs and increase apprenticeship opportunities for all Americans, including veterans, military spouses, and service members transitioning into the civilian workforce; and groups that are underrepresented in apprenticeships such as women, people of color, and Americans transitioning from the justice system to the workforce. Recipients include colleges, universities, and state systems of higher education, in partnership with national industry associations, employers representing an industry sector, and other partners. Industry partners will provide partial matching funds to the institutions to develop in-demand skills as part of these programs.