Biden Seeks to Strengthen Registered Apprenticeship Program, Modernize Workforce Training

November 30, 2020
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Biden and apprenticeships

​Investing in apprenticeships is on the to-do list of President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he wants to put $50 billion into workforce training by creating partnerships among community colleges; businesses; unions; universities and high schools; and state, local and tribal governments.

These partnerships would identify knowledge and skills that are in demand, plus develop or modernize training programs that "could be as short as a few months or as long as two years" and lead to an industry-recognized credential, Biden said on his campaign website. "These funds will also exponentially increase the number of apprenticeships in this country through strengthening the Registered Apprenticeship Program and partnering with unions who oversee some of the best apprenticeship programs throughout our nation." 

While serving as vice president under President Barack Obama, Biden championed the "earn while you learn" approach of apprenticeships as a pipeline of trained workers for employers

Biden has criticized the industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) of President Trump's administration as "watering down the quality of the apprenticeship system." Critics of IRAPs contend that replacing government oversight with industry-run accreditation could lead to fewer worker protections, SHRM Online reported in October.

The Society for Human Resource Management believes public policy must modernize workplace training investment and empower U.S. employers to be innovative. The IRAP system, established in 2020 to exist alongside the U.S. Department of Labor-regulated system, is meant to encourage industries to participate in work-based learning programs by turning over management of the programs to third parties, such as businesses, trade groups, nonprofits and unions. 

Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon Technologies became the first IRAP, the DOL announced Oct. 1, 2020. Its IRAP is overseen by the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, one of the first groups of standards-recognition entities approved by the Trump administration

Additionally, Biden has said his administration will invest in training and educating home-care workers and early-education teachers through programs that lead to certification and ongoing professional development, such as labor management training and apprenticeships. He also vowed to end what he called unnecessary occupational licensing requirements. 

"If licensed workers choose to move to new states for higher-paying jobs, they often have to get certified all over again," he said, promising to incentivize states to ensure licenses are transferable from state to state and reduce licensing requirements.

Biden's commitment to investing in the U.S. workforce is an encouraging sign for businesses to find, train and retain the workers they need, said Rob Garcia, manager of Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships with the Washington, D.C.-based National Skills Coalition (NSC).

"The Biden administration and the next Congress will have significant opportunities to make good on those commitments, as major legislation like the Higher Education Act and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act come up for reauthorization," he said.

"It is critical," he noted, "that the business community is at the table—especially small and midsize businesses who depend on a strong workforce system—to ensure that those investments are both demand-driven and centered on equity to meaningfully achieve an inclusive economic recovery for businesses and workers." 

The NSC is recommending that the Biden administration establish a White House "sub-task force for an inclusive economic recovery" that would be part of a White House-led economic recovery task force. The sub-task force, it said, would be charged with addressing racial and other equity gaps in education and employment outcomes from workforce investments. 

The NSC released a lengthy federal workforce policy agenda it would like to see Biden and Congress put into effect within the first 100 days of the new administration. It includes a call for new investments in worker training and partnerships between community colleges, small and midsize businesses, and other stakeholders, with a focus on addressing racial equity gaps within target occupations and industries. It also is advocating:

  • A comprehensive retraining and re-employment approach for any worker who loses a job because of economic disruptions such as pandemics, automation or trade. Among its proposals is a so-called dislocation reskilling account of up to $15,000 per worker to invest in training at a community or technical college or community-based organization. The NSC also would like the administration to create a federal re-employment distribution fund to expand income assistance for displaced workers.
  • Community partnerships to develop training strategies targeting the specific needs of industries and the local workforce. The NSC calls for investing in worker training to develop "meaningful pathways for workers to enter into and advance in critical industries with a focus on addressing racial equity gaps within target occupations and industries." Those pathways could include:
    • Making high-quality digital learning available to all workers.
    • Expanding access to high-quality, industry-driven education and training.
    • Establishing tax incentives for employers that participate in industry partnerships and agree to hire and train individuals in the communities where projects are located.
    • Congress investing at least $500 million in preparing, supporting and advancing the careers of a contact-tracing workforce; it is estimated that the U.S. will need 100,000 people for that work.

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