Labor Department announces expansion of industry-recognized apprenticeship programs

The United States Department of Labor earlier this month announced new changes that will advance the federal government’s efforts to expand apprenticeship opportunities for job-seekers in the U.S.

The department issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would establish a process to advance the development of high-quality, industry-recognized apprenticeship programs.

The Labor Department also announced $183.8 million in awards supporting apprenticeships for educational institutions partnered with companies that provide a funding match component, as well as another $100 million to further expand apprenticeships and “close the skills gap,” according to a press release.

Now, the department wants businesses and organizations looking to approve industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) to reach out.

“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,” said the U.S. Department of Labor.

There have been more than 500,000 new apprenticeships created since January 2017, according to the department.

“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,” the U.S. Department of Labor said.

According to the department, IRAPs “represent a new pathway” for the expansion of apprenticeships and do not change requirements for Registered Apprenticeship Programs.

The latest changes stem from an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on June 15, 2017, which charged the department with establishing recommended guidelines or requirements for qualified entities to ensure that apprenticeship programs meet quality standards.

Trump’s Executive Order 13801 created the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, which included representatives of business, labor, educational institutions, trade associations, as well as public officials, and asked for their recommendations on how to expand apprenticeships in the U.S., according to the department. Those recommendations were sent to the president in May 2018.

The NPRM issued this month “reflects key recommendations contained in the final report of the Task Force, which noted that the establishment of industry-recognized apprenticeships could provide high-quality apprenticeship programs and opportunities in a market-driven system,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor press release.

Under the rule proposed in the NPRM, trade, industry and employer groups or associations as well as educational institutions, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, unions and other related groups could become Standards Recognition Entities (SREs) that set standards for training, structure and curricula for IRAPs in relevant industries. 

SREs would be recognized through the U.S. Department of Labor to make sure its requirements are met, meaning only high-quality IRAPs would be approved. According to the department, the relationship would be similar to the one between the U.S. Department of Education and higher education accrediting bodies.

“The Department would ensure that SREs have the capacity and quality-assurance processes and procedures needed to monitor IRAPs and recognize that IRAPs are high quality,” according to the press 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.”

The U.S. Department of Labor is providing 60 days for public comment and invites interested parties to submit comments on the proposed rule in the Federal Register.

Graham Bosch

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