Trump Apprenticeship Plan May Raise Construction Industry Questions

By on May 8, 2019

From Bloomberg Law:

  •  Labor Department considering including construction in Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Program
  • Unions fear it will hurt job training, safety standards
Recent ABC newsletter article promoting Trump apprenticeship program. In 2017 ABC organized non-union workers in New York City to protest against requirements for mandatory apprenticeships on private projects. 

The Labor Department is considering including construction in its plan to expand apprenticeships—potentially creating a showdown with labor groups that oppose this move.

The Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade association representing the nonunion construction industry, has been lobbying the DOL and the White House to include construction in the agency’s still unreleased industry-led apprenticeship program.

“We are advocating for all industries to be included,” Drew Schneider, legislative director for ABC, said.

The DOL previously said construction and the U.S. military would be excluded from the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program, given their high participation rate in the federal Registered Apprenticeship system, an 80-year-old program that establishes strict standards and government oversight. Alternatively, IRAP would designate program sponsorship and oversight to a third-party certifier.

Sources familiar with the conversations surrounding the program’s rollout said the issue is still on the table for the DOL as it finalizes the program’s details.

Apprenticeships offered by construction accounted for 50 percent of Registered Apprenticeships, according to the DOL. Building trades unions are heavily involved in this system, so allowing employers to establish their own standards, with limited oversight, excludes labor from establishing job training standards in an industry that needs the strongest standards of safety and work quality, said Jim Reid, the apprenticeship director for the International Association of Machinists.

The DOL declined to comment for this story.

DOL’s Previous Position

IRAP has been a central plank for Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta since he took the helm of the agency. The program was born out of President Donald Trump’s June 2017 executive order to expand apprenticeships in America.

Details have been slow to come out of the DOL as the department has kept IRAP information close to the chest. So far, the concept would allow any business, union, or educational institution to create an apprenticeship program. It’s been advertised by the DOL as a program that’s easier for employers to participate in.

As the DOL first began developing the program, it received feedback that Registered Apprenticeships is successful in the construction industry, and the agency didn’t want IRAP to, in any way, be seen as a threat to the registered model in construction, according to Mason Bishop, who helped the DOL with the original conception of IRAP. Bishop was the Employment and Training Administration’s No. 2 official for six years during the George W. Bush administration.

The DOL in its July 2018 guidance stated, based on construction and the U.S. military’s high concentration in federal Registered Apprenticeships, “the IRAPs shall initially be available to sectors other than these two.”

The DOL has since been in talks to move away from that initial position, a source familiar with the development of the program said.

Who Benefits More?

Reid said expanding IRAP to construction would purely be for the benefit of employers and nonunion groups. Reid is involved largely in apprenticeship with manufacturing, but said concerns toward IRAP applies throughout the labor movement.

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