- The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule March 11 updating the process by which apprenticeship programs are evaluated in the U.S.
- The rule largely maintains the proposals outlined in DOL's 2019 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), establishing a system to supplement the department's existing system of apprenticeship recognition. Under the rule, DOL may recognize and oversee standards recognition entities (SREs) that in turn work with employers and other entities to establish, recognize and monitor apprenticeship programs.
- Programs that seek to train apprentices to perform construction activities are excluded from DOL's approach to apprenticeships as outlined in the final rule, the agency said. DOL's rule contains a few updates from the NPRM, including those detailing how DOL will oversee SREs and clarifying the requirements to become an SRE. It takes effect May 11.
The rule is a direct follow-up to President Donald Trump's 2017 Executive Order on expanding apprenticeship programs in the U.S. Among the objectives outlined in the order, Trump directed the Secretary of Labor to promote the development of apprenticeship programs by third parties.
A number of entities can apply to become SREs under the rule, including trade associations, educational institutions, non-profits, unions, accreditation bodies and employers. One notable change from the NPRM is that DOL decided not to prohibit SREs from recognizing their own apprenticeship programs in the final rule. Though DOL said it "agrees that an SRE recognizing its own programs presents actual or potential conflicts of interest," it found a prohibition on this process "unnecessary if an SRE mitigates the inherent conflicts of interest according to the policies and procedures submitted with its application for recognition."
DOL's industry-recognized apprenticeship program (IRAP) approach has drawn support from stakeholders as well as criticism. After publication of the NPRM, one national network in favor of apprenticeship expansion said it had concerns that the new program would fragment the nation's apprenticeship system while introducing apprenticeship programs of "widely varying quality."
Congressional Democrats also criticized the final rule Tuesday. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said in a statement that DOL would not be able to guarantee that apprenticeships created under the new framework are portable, and that the proposal could damage the existing federal registered apprenticeship system.
"For example, the IRAP system established under this rule strips the Department of its critical role in certifying that apprenticeship programs are meeting quality standards and upholding worker protections," Scott said.
In the final rule, DOL said it acknowledged concerns in submitted public comments as to the new framework's effect on registered apprenticeships, noting that "IRAPs are not intended to disrupt, supplant, or otherwise negatively affect registered apprenticeship programs."
The rule arrives at a time of heightened interest in apprenticeships among both employers and workers. State governments in particular have been at the forefront of apprenticeship expansion. Iowa, for example, is encouraging expansion of the programs beyond traditional skilled trades. The state worked with CVS Health to develop an apprenticeship program for pharmacy technicians. New Jersey announced last month a new $2 million grant opportunity for organizations operating in the state to create "degree apprenticeship" programs that simultaneously allow apprentices to earn college credit and on-the-job experience.