An executive order by the Trump Administration that created a task force on apprenticeship expansion has led to a proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) creating industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAP). The military and construction industries would be excluded from the rule; however, some leadership among industry unions believe the IRAP rule could lower safety standards if the exemption is not made permanent.
According to the proposed rule, published June 25, the goal of the IRAP is to address America’s skills gap and expand the apprenticeship model to new industries. The rule would establish a process for recognizing Standards Recognition Entities (SREs), which would work with employers to establish, recognize and monitor industry programs that provide apprenticeships.
“The department proposes recognizing entities that show that they have the expertise to set standards for high-quality programs that result in industry-recognized credentials and equip apprentices with competencies needed for proficiency in specified industries or occupational areas, as would be demonstrated through components of the entity’s proposed application,” reads the proposed rule.
IRAPs would not replace the existent registered apprenticeship program, but would supplement it, according to the DOL, which states, “Industry-recognized apprenticeships provide a new apprenticeship pathway that gives industry organizations and employers more autonomy and authority to identify high quality apprenticeship programs and opportunities.”
The DOL exempted the military and construction industries from the proposed rule because registered apprenticeship opportunities are already significant among those industries, according to the rule. The DOL states that it will not, at least initially, accept SRE applications from organizations in either industry. Some members of construction industry unions believe the exemption should be made permanent.
Iron Workers general president Eric Dean says, “We are proud to provide a proven pathway to success in construction through our registered apprenticeship program. Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs would only lower safety and training standards across the construction industry, putting workers and customers at risk. The construction exemption should remain in the final rule.”
Anton Ruesing, director of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades’ International Finishing Trades Institute, says that IRAPs are unnecessary.
“If an organization wanted to create an apprenticeship program they could do that right now,” he says, adding that the current registered apprenticeship program provides protections for apprentices that would not be guaranteed under the IRAP rule. Ruesing says that apprentices under the IRAP rule would not be guaranteed a graduated wage scale and could be made to pay money to participate in a program. He also points out that the IRAPs would not have government oversight but would instead be overseen by industry third parties.
If the construction industry exemption is not made permanent, Ruesing believes it could create confusion for apprentices.
“Right now, all construction industry programs are registered by the DOL and apprentices are still afforded protections. If IRAPs come into construction, apprentices won’t have the same protections and could be misled thinking they are joining a registered program, when in fact they are not,” he says, adding that it could create a competitive disadvantage for programs such as his, which take great care to ensure that they adhere to regulations that protect apprentices.
“It costs money to run a legitimate program and make sure that we do the right thing,” he says. “… This is not a union versus non-union issue. It’s an industry issue and it’s an issue of legitimate programs versus illegitimate programs.”
The IUPAT has submitted comments from 12,000 members and is joining the building trades in pursuit of their goal of 250,000 trade workers submitting comments by the deadline, which is Monday, August 26, 2019. Comments must be submitted in writing.