The administration and Congress continue to make incremental progress to expand work-based learning opportunities in the US. In the coming months, DOL and Congress are likely to take additional steps by announcing grants to partnerships between educators and business associations, new regulations to implement an industry recognized apprenticeship system and through work on comprehensive apprenticeship legislation.
Department of Labor
Last month, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced the availability of $150 million, 2018 funds appropriated from Congress to support expansion of registered apprenticeship, for state apprenticeship expansion in in-demand industries. This will be the third round of these State Expansion grants. Thirty-six states applied for funds in the first round, and DOL regranted funds – between $1m – $7m per state - to those same 36 states for round two. These grants would be consistent with NSC recommendations, where the partnerships supported by funding included a robust set of local partners, including educators, the workforce system, labor management partnerships and other community organizations.
DOL also continues to work towards releasing regulations on a new Industry Recognized Apprenticeship system, intended to be parallel to the Registered Apprenticeship System and to empower non-DOL Standards Recognition Entities like business associations to recognize industry-recognized programs meet necessary standards. On April 23rd, DOL filed their draft regs for interagency review with Office of Management a Budget, a necessary step prior to releasing draft regulations and triggering a 60-day review period. Regulations are calendared to be released for public comment this spring.
NSC has called for the administration to ensure regulation of this new system includes engagement opportunity for small and mid-size businesses, alignment with career pathways, and support for equal employment opportunity like that found in current regulations as applied to registered apprenticeships. Along with 15 other national organizations and as part of the Apprenticeship Forward Collaborative, NSC released a set of principles for expanding apprenticeship last year, including a definition of apprenticeship.
Finally, DOL is anticipated to release $150 million in H-1B visa fee funds to support the creation of these Industry Recognized Apprenticeship programs by supporting partnerships between educators and businesses or business associations. These application process for these grants closed last fall, and Secretary of Labor Acosta has described his intention to release grants soon, along with plans for a second and third round of grants, presumably also using H-1B visa fee funds, in the future.
Department of Education
The Department of Education is also taking steps to expand work-based learning opportunities for students in postsecondary education programs. Just last week the department announced a call for letters of interest from institutions of higher education to participate in a pilot program to expand use of federal work study funds to support work-based learning opportunities with private sector employers. The pilot is intended to empower institutions to use more of their FWS funds to support off-campus employment by waiving several statutory and regulatory restrictions.
The pilot would, among other things,
- allow participating students to work full time instead of limiting to part time,
- increase the federal contribution towards participant wages from 50 percent to 75 percent for small businesses, and
- waive a 10% cap on FWS spending on job training activities.
Congress also continues their focus on apprenticeship and work-based learning. The House Education and Labor Committee and the House Appropriations Committee both heard testimony from Secretary Acosta earlier this spring, as did the Senate Appropriations Committee, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (L-HHS) Subcommittee. During all three hearings, Republican and Democrat members, along with the Secretary, recognized the US underinvests in skills training. In response to member questions, the Secretary focused on the Department of Labor’s plans to expand industry recognized apprenticeship and the role of the workforce and education systems in support the expansion of industry recognized and registered apprenticeship.
The Fiscal Year 2020 House L-HHS appropriations bill cleared committee earlier this month, too, and is expected to be voted on by the full House early next month. The bill would include $250 million for expanding apprenticeship, a $90 million increase from Fiscal Year 2019 funding. The Senate L-HHS bill may be debated by the subcommittee as early as mid-June, but is unlikely to include as large of an increase as that proposed by the House bill.
Despite bipartisan support for apprenticeship, a comprehensive apprenticeship bill hasn’t been introduced this session, in part because the committees with jurisdiction over apprenticeship have focused on work towards reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
Several targeted bills to support work-based learning have been introduced, however.
- Senator Baldwin (D-WI), and Representatives Bonamici (D-OR), Ferguson (R-GA), Davis (D-CA) and Guthrie (R-GA) introduced the PARTNERS Act, which would support industry or sector partnerships between business, educators, community organizations, labor groups and the workforce system, building local capacity to run work-based learning programs and worker success in these programs.
- During Infrastructure week, Senators Kaine (D-VA), Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI), Bonamici (D-OR), Langevin (D-RI) and Thompson (R-PA) introduced the BUILDS Act, which would provide national grants to support pre-employment and retention services for workers in infrastructure industries, have been introduced with broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
National Skills Coalition, along with our partners in the Apprenticeship Forward Collaborative, will continue to monitor administration and Congressional progress towards expanding work-based learning.