- A Department of Labor rule issued yesterday that will help expand apprenticeships in the U.S. leaves out programs that seek to train apprentices to perform construction work. Those groups instead can continue to participate in a separate Registered Apprenticeship Program.
- The rule establishes a system for advancing the development of Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs), a centerpiece of President Donald Trump’s workplace policy agenda. It will take effect May 11.
- The idea of exempting the construction industry from IRAPs has drawn fire from major contractor groups like the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). On the other hand, building trade unions like North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) have praised the plan.
IRAPS are recognized by a third-party entity under standards established by the department in the new rule. Through these programs, individuals will be able to obtain workplace-relevant training and progressively advancing skills that result in an industry-recognized credential while getting paid for their work.
An IRAP is developed or operated by entities such as trade and industry groups, corporations, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, unions and joint labor-management organizations. They are seen as a way to help alleviate the labor shortage in new industry sectors and occupations that don't traditionally have apprenticeships.
“Apprenticeships are widely recognized to be a highly effective job-training approach for American workers and for employers seeking the skilled workforce needed in today’s changing workplace,” Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia said in a statement. “This new rule offers employers, community colleges, and others a flexible, innovative way to quickly expand apprenticeship in telecommunications, health care, cybersecurity, and other sectors where apprenticeships currently are not widely available.”
The issue has raised concern on both sides, with the DOL receiving a total of 326,798 public comments about the ruling, the majority of which expressed opposition to the use of IRAPs in construction.
In the end, the department concluded that registered apprenticeship programs are more widespread in the construction sector than in other sectors and therefore don't need to be included in the plan. The decision could spur at least one legal challenge according to Bloomberg Law, and includes a clause to limit a potential lawsuit from the construction industry.
Greg Sizemore, vice president of health, safety, environment and workforce development for the Associated Builders and Contractors, which had lobbied against the exemption, said all workers should be given the opportunity to participate in the new industry programs.
Conversely, NABTU President Sean McGarvey said the union is pleased with the outcome and that the industry’s current apprenticeship programs won’t be “watered down” by having to participate in IRAPs.
“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,” he said.