DOL Announces First Group of Industry-Run Apprenticeship Providers

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer September 24, 2020
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​The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced Sept. 23 the initial group of organizations given the responsibility of overseeing the development of the Trump administration's industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs).

The 18 organizations, called standards recognition entities (SREs), are third-party groups that will work with employers to establish and monitor employer-led apprenticeships and industry-recognized credentials outside of the traditional DOL-regulated apprenticeship system.

The SREs are the first group to be approved under new regulations the DOL published in March meant to expand apprenticeship opportunities in industries where they have been underutilized. The DOL had contended that traditional registered apprenticeships have proved successful when used, but only about 0.2 percent of the U.S. workforce has taken advantage of them, primarily in trades and construction.

"The entities we recognize today will enable companies in industries like health care, advanced manufacturing, information technology and many others to better tailor their apprenticeship programs to fit the particular needs of their workforces," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia.

This first cohort of SREs includes organizations representing accreditation bodies, community colleges, employers, industry associations and state workforce development agencies. They have been approved to recognize IRAPs nationally or statewide in 20 industries covering nearly 130 occupations. More organizations will be announced as SREs. SRE recognition is valid for five years.

The newly recognized SREs:

AED Foundation.

Alabama Office of Apprenticeship.

American Nurses Credentialing Center Practice Transition Accreditation Program.

ANSI National Accreditation Board.

Apprenticeship Missouri.

ApprenticeshipNC.

Colorado Community College System.

Energy Sector Security Consortium Inc.

Fanuc-Rockwell SRE.

Fastport.

Franklin Apprenticeships.

Iowa Department of Education.

Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana.

National Institute for Metalworking Skills.

Peregrine Technical Solutions.

Smart Automation Certification Alliance.

Texas Workforce Commission.

WTIA Workforce Consulting.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Using Government and Other Resources for Employment and Training Programs]

Expanding Work-Based Learning

Promoting learn-while-you-earn credential programs in lieu of four-year college degrees has been a signature effort of the Trump administration, which has argued that for some, learning relevant, hire-ready skills on the job can be more valuable than a college education.

IRAPs are an important step in opening up more nontraditional and affordable education opportunities that could particularly benefit younger workers who have not been able to take advantage of the U.S. higher-education system, as well as current workers who have been negatively impacted by changes in industry and technology, said Rachel Greszler, senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Lisa Horn, vice president of government affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management, said "SHRM is excited about the potential IRAPs have to create new pathways to employment, especially in careers like HR and others that have not yet embraced apprenticeships to fill their talent needs."

Katie Spiker, director of government affairs at National Skills Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based public-policy research and advocacy group for workforce development, said that the IRAP initiative is evidence of the need to modernize apprenticeships, expand access to industry-recognized credentials and allow businesses to play more of a role in helping tailor the kind of training their workers receive to meet their specific needs.

"This announcement—coupled with ongoing negotiations in Congress to reauthorize the National Apprenticeship Act—are welcome reminders that modernizing our apprenticeship system is a bipartisan issue," she said. "But policymakers also need to recognize that expanding apprenticeship is just one piece of the puzzle. We should also maximize investments in our digital infrastructure and literacy for both displaced and incumbent workers and work to modernize our unemployment system to act as a re-employment system that provides the necessary income and social services to support workers through their journey back into the labor market."

Concerns Remain

The expansion of employer-led apprenticeships does not change any requirements of the traditional DOL-registered programs, which would exist alongside the industry-crafted channel. But critics of the IRAPs contend that by replacing government oversight with industry-run accreditation, the programs will lack the worker protections of the registered apprenticeship system.

The DOL is, in effect, outsourcing quality control of IRAPs to SREs without clear requirements for how these external entities will monitor the programs or take action against those found to be noncompliant, according to New America, a Washington, D.C.-based public-policy think tank.

"The quality-assurance process risks opening the door to low-quality programs and introducing considerable risk to apprentices and their employers," said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills at New America.

Spiker agreed that the new IRAPs are not held to as high a standard as registered programs. For example, IRAPs are not required to provide workers with wage increases commensurate with their skills gain, she said. "Those increases are one of the hallmarks of registered programs and an important retention tool for businesses." 

In addition, IRAPs, though subject to federal and state equal employment opportunity laws, are not required to conduct targeted outreach to underrepresented populations in the local labor market as registered programs are. The DOL also decided not to prohibit SREs from recognizing their own apprenticeship programs, which could present conflicts of interest.

The DOL did however, make several updates to the proposed version of the rule in response to concerns about oversight. SREs are required to conduct periodic compliance reviews of their programs and to beef up reporting requirements. "This is critical to see how effective the programs are for businesses and workers and improves alignment with the nation's workforce development system, which tracks performance measures under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act," Spiker said.

She added that one of the biggest changes from the proposed rule is that programs are required to have a written agreement with each apprentice outlining the terms and conditions of employment and training. "In order for the IRAPs to be high quality, they needed to offer both workers and employers transparency about the credentials workers will earn and about the process by which they will earn those credentials," she said.

The DOL stated that SREs would have to ensure that apprenticeships meet certain criteria, such as paying at least the applicable minimum wage, including a structured work experience designed to teach competency and industry-essential skills, adhering to all applicable safety and equal employment opportunity requirements, providing mentorship and delivering an industry-recognized credential upon completion of the program.

The final rule excluded the construction industry from participating in IRAPs, to the dismay of employers in that sector. Builders will instead be able to continue offering registered apprenticeships through programs run with trade unions.

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