Department of Labor Proposal Creates Controversy

A new proposed U.S. Department of Labor regulation related to apprenticeship programs has found proponents and opponents in various segments of the construction industry.

A provision in the proposed rule would initially exempt the construction industry from taking part in the DOL's efforts to advance the development of high-quality Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs), which would include providing grants for such programs.

"Under the proposed rule, entities such as trade, industry, and employer groups or associations, educational institutions, state and local government entities, non-profit organizations, unions, or a consortium or partnership of these entities could become a Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) that sets standards for training, structure, and curricula for IRAPs in relevant industries or occupational areas," states the DOL in a press release.

While the major building trades unions and other construction-related organizations welcome the construction industry exemption to the IRAP initiative and want to see the exemption made permanent, other construction-related organizations plan to mount an effort to include construction in the program.

The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) is one proponent of the proposed regulation. A June 25, 2019 NECA press release notes, "[NECA] applauds President Trump for his decision to recognize the construction industry's longstanding expertise in the creation and execution of apprenticeships in a proposed rule issued today by the U.S. Department of Labor that would govern the creation of Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs."

NECA CEO David Long stated, "Given the high concentration of time-tested registered apprenticeship programs in the construction industry, there is no need to create a special parallel program that would detract from our nearly 80 years of experience as the industry's gold standard. We are pleased that the Trump administration recognizes the successes of our established model."

The NECA press release adds, "The association plans to offer extensive comments in response to the proposed rule and will encourage its 4,000 member contractors and 118 chapters to do the same, so that federal regulators understand the full extent of the impact of the proposed rule-making."

Some opponents to the construction exemption plan to work hard to include construction in the program.

In a June 24 press release, Associated General Contractors of America (AGC)CEO Stephen Sandherr notes, "At a time when the vast majority of construction firms report having a hard time finding qualified workers to hire, it is deeply troubling that the Trump administration has opted to not include the sector in its new apprenticeship proposal." He added, "While there are multiple paths in the industry, the fact is that it remains too difficult for many firms and their partners to establish apprenticeship programs for construction workers. Had construction been included in this initiative, many more Americans would have had the option to master construction crafts via the proven apprenticeship model. Instead, the administration is sending a clear message that contractors need not apply."

Comment on the proposed regulation continues until the end of August, and with proponents and opponents planning to weigh in, passage is not a slam dunk.

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