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Industry-Provided Apprenticeship Programs Critical to the Future

With less than two weeks to go before the comment period for the new proposed Department of Labor (DOL) rule on Registered Apprenticeship Programs, or RAPs, will be over, it appears that the construction industry organizations have gotten the proverbial “short end of the stick” from a union-backed exemption that excludes construction Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs, or IRAPs, from the new list of approved industries.

Industry organizations have been advocating for some period for additional Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs that would better serve the industry and would provide for expanded accelerated programs for the workers in the industrial, commercial, and even the residential sectors of the industry.

The skilled labor shortages brought about by the aging population and a generation of de-emphasis on skilled construction careers was spotted by Donald Trump when he became President Trump. A builder/developer himself, he focused one of his early executive orders (EO13801) to expand the number of apprenticeship programs available for skilled workers in the US across a number of industries including healthcare, advanced manufacturing, and information technology.

One provision of the President’s executive order created a “Task Force on Apprenticeship Programs,” comprised of union, industry, and business representatives who met on five separate occasions as well as in specific subgroups before voting on the provisions that were included in the final report to the President.

According to Mike Holland, COO of Marek, who testified as a representative of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) on a Senate panel on the need for change, Registered Apprenticeship Programs have been in place for many years and are endorsed by the Department of Labor. Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs, which have also been around for many years, have only recently been branded as "IRAPs" in conjunction with the newly-formed Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion (see notes, agendas and minutes of the meetings) created to respond to the president’s executive order on the expansion of apprenticeship programs.

According to several of the industry representatives who played roles either in the task force or who testified, it is one of the provisions that was included in the final report to the President that has split the unions and the industry. A recent article in ENR spells out the exemption that the unions and some politicians want included, that being that RAPs would be approved and IRAPs would be expanded to a number of new industries, however, the construction industry was excluded from the process and subsequently will not, according to the draft rule, be allowed to become Standards Recognition Entities or SREs, who can provide DOL recognized apprenticeship programs.

The union reps and the politicians opposed adding the construction industry organizations such as AGC and ABC much to the disappointment and bemusement of the industry. The construction industry has 43% of the total current apprentices in the DOL programs and it seems that to exclude the construction industry IRAPs from the ruling is counterproductive. A number of politicians and union reps were quoted as saying that in the construction industry, the current RAP system has been established as the “gold standard” for apprenticeship programs. Sounds like that old saw, “We have always done it that way; why should we change it?”

Construction industry representatives complain that the current DOL-approved process “holds back” new applicants and burdens the process with excessive administrative requirements and a bloated bureaucracy neither of which helps to create apprenticeship programs. They argue that they are providing

As of this morning, according to the DOL site, there have been over 162,000 comments submitted about this new rule. You can bet that the unions and the craft workers who were trained under the RAPs are commenting.

You should do the same now so that your voice can be included in the programs as it goes forward.

To read more about the Senate Democrat’s view of the rule which reflects the union position, see https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/ec9a19a6-719b-480c-a2a1-57ea2948cac0/apprenticeships-fact-sheet.pdf

To submit comments, check the submission form here https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/06/25/2019-13076/apprenticeship-programs-labor-standards-for-registration-amendment-of-regulations.

Contact your AGC or ABC chapter to get the latest update on this rule but do it now to beat the August 26th deadline for comments on this major rule change.