- The White House has ended the Trump administration's Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program (IRAP). President Joe Biden's Feb. 17 executive order rescinded former President Donald Trump's 2017 order calling for the launch of the IRAP, which intended to move much of the supervision of such workforce initiatives to industry groups. The Biden administration was "concerned that the IRAP program creates a redundant apprenticeship program, with duplicate and often inferior systems that compete with the highly successful and longstanding Registered Apprenticeship Program," according to an announcement from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
- The acceptance and review of new or pending applications for Standards Recognition Entities (SREs) in IRAP have been suspended; however, this will have no impact on the 27 SREs currently approved, according to DOL. All IRAPs recognized by an SRE will continue to perform their functions, and previously approved SREs may also continue to recognize additional IRAPs, the agency said.
- Biden's executive order also reinstated the National Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships to address the "clear need to engage with leaders and practitioners from industry, labor, education, workforce and community organizations" as well as modernize, streamline and diversify the registered apprenticeship model, DOL said in the announcement. The advisory committee will focus on developing recommendations on how the Registered Apprenticeship Program can meet the current and future needs of the U.S. workforce, according to DOL.
Trump's executive order on IRAP promoted the development of apprenticeship programs by third parties such as trade and industry groups, corporations, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, unions and joint labor-management organizations.
Under the measure, employers and industry groups had leeway in designing their federal apprenticeship programs without much oversight from the government. For example, appointed organizations or SREs weren't required to report to the DOL information on a program's success rate, according to Bloomberg Law. It wasn't until March 2020 that the DOL published a final rule updating the evaluation process of IRAPs. Under the rule, the DOL could recognize and oversee organizations, referred to as SREs, that work with companies and various entities to establish and monitor apprenticeship programs.
But IRAP caused controversy as House Democrats were concerned about its effects on the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP), possibly reducing funding for RAPs and the possibility of putting safety and quality standards for workers at risk. IRAP's shortcomings included failure to require the "wage progression that reflects increasing apprentice skills" and not having standardized training rigor, according to the Feb. 17 statement by the White House. In 2019, a national network of organizations dedicated to expanding apprenticeship programs, wrote in a public statement voicing concern that "the creation of a parallel system of Industry Programs may further fragment our national apprenticeship system and introduce programs of widely varying quality."
Some viewed IRAPs as beneficial. They are an "important step in opening up more nontraditional and affordable education opportunities," Rachel Greszler, senior policy analyst at Washington-based conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, told the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) in September 2020. DOL announced the first group of SREs Sept. 23, according to SHRM.
In addition to reinstating the National Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships, Biden has endorsed Congressman Bobby Scott's (D-VA) bipartisan National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, which will "create and expand registered apprenticeships, youth apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs," according to the White House. The bill is said to ensure the programs create a diverse workforce by supporting industry and equity intermediaries in recruitment and fostering partnerships between apprenticeship programs and community colleges, the announcement said.