DOL Apprenticeship Stirs Contractor Debate


The United States Department of Labor’s deadline for formal comments regarding a proposal to exempt the construction industry and the military from creating Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs recently ended on Aug. 26, revealing more than 325,000 responses.

The DOL will now be overlooking the comments and deciding if any revisions should be made before issuing a final rule on the matter.

About the Rule

As a result of President Donald J. Trump’s June 2017 executive order on expanding apprenticeships in America—which charged the Secretary of Labor to consider establishing guidelines to qualified entities on government-recognized apprenticeship programs for assurance that quality standards were met—a task force put together a proposed rule.

Roughly two years later, on June 25, the DOL published its proposed rule on the Federal Register and in summary, expressed that it planned to “address America’s skills gap and expand the apprenticeship model to new industries, the U.S. Department of Labor proposes a rule under the National Apprenticeship Act to establish a process for recognizing Standards Recognition Entities, which will in turn recognize Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (Industry Programs).”

The proposal also describes industry, employer groups or associations, educational institutions, state and local government entities, nonprofit organizations, unions, or a consortium or a partnership of these entities as applicable SREs.

Currently, the DOL registers apprentices and apprenticeship programs itself or through state agencies. Although reports claim that the new rule won’t change the requirements for the federal Registered Apprenticeship Programs, SREs would monitor IRAPs to ensure DOL criteria is met in providing:

  • Paid work;
  • Work-based learning;
  • Mentorship;
  • Education and instruction;
  • Industry-recognized credentials;
  • Safety and supervision; and
  • Adherence to equal employment opportunity obligations.

The reason the DOL wants to exempt construction and the military—at least initially, stated the Department—is because the two sectors already have a plethora of apprenticeship programs. The construction industry is reported to have acquired the most apprentices (roughly 144,000 per year), making up 48% of all registered apprentices.

The Debate

According to Engineering News Record, DOL officials received 325,678 formal comments in total, with a vast majority having been received from construction workers.

In overlooking the comments, it’s clear that the exemption provision has split the construction industry in half. While trade unions seem to support the exemption—so much so that few have gone so far as to suggest making it permanent—others want to see the revision removed.

Sean McGarvey, president of North America's Building Trades Unions, revealed in an August statement that nearly 325,000 comments were in support of the unions’ position and show that “construction workers don't want the federal government to cut wages and destroy jobs in a dangerous economic experiment."

Some of other pro-exemption groups include the National Electrical Contractors Association, Mechanical Contractors Association of America and Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors of North America.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, Associated Builders and Contractors commented on the exemption topic, stating that, “ABC believes the exclusion of any industry from a nationally recognized apprenticeship program, whether initially or permanently, would be an impediment to innovation and industry advancements in workforce development and safety.

“America needs an all-hands-on-deck effort from all industries, including construction most of all, to close America’s skills gap and meet the industry demands of a growing economy.”

In agreement, the Associated General Contractors of America also added that the Department should be promoting all options for education and employment in the industry so that innovation can flourish on a “level playing field.”

AGC spokesperson Brian Turmail said in an interview, "We've got a really good apprenticeship model. Instead of creating a new type of apprenticeship, we should have just taken steps to make it easier for everyone to establish the same rigorous, equally funded programs that already exist."

The association also points out that the exemption rule doesn’t address the construction industry’s issue with a continued shortage of skilled workers.


Tagged categories: Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. (ABC); Associated General Contractors (AGC); Construction; Contractors; Department of Labor; Good Technical Practice; Government; NA; North America; PaintSquare App - Commercial; President Trump; Unions

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