The Department of Labor published its final rule on Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs) last week and the construction industry is exempt, a move supported by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) and the Iron Workers. Apprenticeships that train workers for construction jobs may continue to participate in the separate Registered Apprenticeship Program.

IRAPs are meant to address America’s skills gap and expand the apprenticeship model to new industries. The rule establishes a process for recognizing Standards Recognition Entities (SREs), qualified third-party entities, which would work with employers to establish, recognize and monitor industry programs that provide apprenticeships.

“While registered apprenticeships have been successful in certain sectors, in particular construction and its allied trades, the existing registered apprenticeship model has not increased the availability of apprenticeships in other rapidly-expanding sectors of the economy. The proportion of apprentices constitutes only about 0.2% of the U.S. workforce,” reads the rule.

When the proposed rule was initially announced, Anton Ruesing, director of the IUPAT’s International Finishing Trades Institute, criticized IRAPs.

“If an organization wanted to create an apprenticeship program they could do that right now,” he said at the time, adding that the current registered apprenticeship program provides protections for apprentices that would not be guaranteed under the IRAP rule. Ruesing said 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 pointed out that the IRAPs would not have government oversight but would instead be overseen by industry third parties.

Iron Workers general president Eric Dean applauds the decision to exclude the construction industry from the IRAP rule.

“This important protection for quality training was won by the nearly 16,000 ironworkers who joined with workers from other trades, socially responsible companies and elected officials from both parties to keep IRAPs out of the construction industry. IRAPs threaten to undercut mature registered apprenticeship programs such as those of the building trades,” he says. “The Iron Workers will defend the integrity of the construction exemption and remain vigilant to the threat posed by IRAPs to manufacturing workers, such as the thousands of American steel fabricators in our union.”

While many in the construction industry opposed being included in the IRAP rule, some organizations, such as the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), were in favor of the industry’s inclusion.

“With the home building industry suffering a chronic labor shortage that is resulting in higher construction costs, increased home prices and lower economic growth, it is disappointing that the Labor Department’s final apprenticeship rule failed to include the construction sector,” says Dean Mon, NAHB chairperson. “This is a missed opportunity at a time when there are 239,000 unfilled construction jobs and an acute shortage of skilled residential construction workers.”

The final rule is effective May 11, 2020.