On March 11, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule establishing a system for developing Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAP) in all sectors except construction.
The DOL says the programs must include a paid-work component (which offers at least the minimum wage), an educational component, on-the-job training/structured work experience, mentorship and result in an industry-recognized credential, among other requirements. Additionally, an IRAP must be developed and approved by a third-party organization—such as an industry group, corporation, non-profit organization, educational institution, etc.—which must meet certain criteria and apply for recognition as a “standards recognition entity” or SRE by the DOL.
In a subpart of the final rule, the DOL has completely excluded IRAPs in the construction industry. Additionally, the DOL will see to it that the Office of Apprenticeship Administrator will not recognize SREs that intend to establish IRAPs seeking to train apprentices in construction activities, which includes, “the erecting of buildings and other structures (including additions); heavy construction other than buildings; and alterations, reconstruction, installation, and maintenance and repairs.”
The DOL cited the 326,798 public comments—the most the Employment and Training Administration has ever received on a rule—as part of this decision, stating that “the vast majority” of the comments addressed this construction exemption section “with many calling for an express exclusion of construction from the final rule.”
While recognizing some comments that argued IRAPs would help fill skilled-training needs, ultimately the DOL determined that the goal of IRAPs is to expand apprenticeships into new industries, and registered apprenticeship programs are already well-established and widespread in construction. Additionally, the department did not want to risk disrupting registered construction programs.
The final rule states, “…a complete exclusion of construction, but no other sector, is most consistent with the goal of encouraging more apprenticeships in new industry sectors that lack widespread and well-established registered apprenticeship opportunities.”
The National Electrical Contractors Association applauded this exemption, believing IRAPs will interfere with their already established registered apprenticeship models.
NECA Chief Executive Officer David Long said, "Given the high concentration of time-tested registered apprenticeship programs in the construction industry, there is no need to create a parallel program that would detract from our nearly 80 years of experience as the industry's gold standard.”
The DOL also addressed other comments in its final rule. In particular, the department pushed back against the idea that IRAPs are less safe than registered apprenticeship programs. The DOL also argued against the idea that a stronger distinction was not needed to prevent confusion between IRAPs and registered apprenticeship programs.
The creation of the IRAPs programs is in response to an Executive Order signed by President Donald Trump on June 15, 2017, directing the Secretary of Labor to promote the development of apprenticeship programs by third parties.