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Multiple DOL announcements to expand Industry Recognized Apprenticeships with proposed regulations and grant announcements

  ·   By Katie Spiker,
Multiple DOL announcements to expand Industry Recognized Apprenticeships with proposed regulations and grant announcements

Earlier this week, the administration took several next steps to expand their industry recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs), providing important guidance to states and practitioners implementing the new process.  

On June 24th and 25th, the Department of Labor (DOL) 

These announcements offer insight inside administration actions– the regulations offer new details into SREs and IRAP programs, but still need additional work to be operationalized, such as ensuring a role for small businesses in the process, requiring SREs collect and report on vital performance measures, and distinguishing the activities programs will be tasked with as compared to that of the SRE/oversight entity.  

At the same time, many of the systems awarded funds this week to implement the new program, represent forward thinking, effective community and technical colleges systems that lead their peers in establishing alignment between higher education and workforce programs. 

The new funding availability offers safeguards to ensure funding continues to go to good programs – applicants are required to show an “apprenticeship partnership” comprised of education and businesses and other workforce and education stakeholders in a local area. Applications also must include a plan for using funds to provide support services to program participants to ensure their success – often the biggest financial lift for entities attempting to expand programs to workers with the most need for these supports.  

Background on Industry Recognized Apprenticeship 

Since a 2017 Executive Order intended to create this new IRAP system, DOL convened a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, comprised of Governors, leaders from businesses and business associations, representatives of education providers and education associations, Labor leaders, and other interested stakeholders. The Task Force’s work culminated in a report to the President in May of 2018, that set forward several recommendations to expand apprenticeship, including aligning apprenticeship with educational opportunities, marketing opportunities to workers and providing business engagement assistance particularly in industries in which apprenticeship is not well utilized, and repeated a call for disinvestment in other workforce training strategies.  

Following the report from the task force, DOL released the first iteration of a Training and Employment Notice (TEN) that described the role of what the agency now calls Standards Recognition Entities (SREs), third party entities like business associations who will serve in an oversight role and recognize industry-recognized apprenticeship programs as meeting standards necessary to address business demand for skilled workers. The TEN released this week would update this 2018 TEN.  

In November of 2018, DOL solicited comments on the information it would collect from SREs, releasing a draft of the form an SRE would need to submit to DOL in order to be recognized for the SRE designation. NSC submitted a set of comments individually and in partnership with other national organizations, recommending DOL collect information that would empower small and mid-size companies to fully participate in the IRAP system, urging DOL to require SREs to release and disaggregate outcomes data and recognizing the importance of local, industry-led partnerships and career pathways to success of both business and workers in implementing a new work-based learning system.  

Over the past six months, Secretary Acosta has spoken optimistically about progress towards rolling out the new system, but this week’s series of announcements were the first tangible step of 2019.  

IRAP Proposed Regulations 

Published on June 25th in the Federal Register, DOL is soliciting comments due August 23rd on their proposed amendments to 29 CFR 29, the portion of the Code of Federal Regulations that currently governs registered apprenticeship programs. The proposed regs would largely leave existing regs untouched, except for adding provisions around IRAP.   

The proposed regulations explicitly recognize that industry recognized programs under would not automatically qualify for the priority status registered programs enjoy in other workforce and education programs, such as automatic eligibility for a state Eligible Training Provider List under WIOA or application of Davis-Bacon provisions as applied to programs registered under the National Apprenticeship Act. 

Standards Recognition Entities (SRE) 

The proposed regs detail who can become an SRE, including business associations, local agencies, educational institutions, community-based organizations, unions, labor management partnerships or a consortium of those entities. To qualify, entities must show expertise in an industry necessary to evaluate training, structure and curricula of programs and capacity to assess program quality, defined as ensuring programs meet the definition of industry recognized programs offered below. Programs would be recognized for five years.   

In the proposed regs, DOL recognizes that there may be hundreds of SREs across occupations, industries and regions and solicits comments on the best way to encourage diverse set of entities to seek recognition as SREs.  

Consistent with task force recommendations, and those from labor unions in the construction industry, DOL proposes limiting SREs from recognizing military or construction apprenticeships. DOL bases this restriction on the concentration of apprentices within these areas – 48% of registered programs are in the construction industry and 32% are military apprenticeships. DOL proposes sunsetting this restriction, such as in five years, as industry recognized programs grow and this representation across the two apprenticeship systems evens out across industries.  

Once recognized by DOL, these entities are tasked with reporting on completion of program participants and recognizing programs in a timely manner. SREs would be required to publicly release data on each program it recognizes:  

  1. Contact information for entity running the program 

  1. Number of apprentices enrolled 

  1. Completion rate  

  1. Median length of a program 

  1. Post-apprenticeship employment rate.  

The regulations solicit comment on the importance of DOL requiring SREs to collect, and make publicly available, additional data about recognized programs. Earlier guidance from DOL suggested intended alignment between data collection SREs would be tasked with and WIOA performance measures, but the proposed data collection in the draft regs would not rise to the standards of WIOA or those recommended in the past by NSC and our partners.  

DOL solicits comments on whether additional data, such as that on participants’ post-program earnings, should be released to enable DOL to evaluate program success and the most efficient approach by which SREs can collect this data and share with DOL.  

The regulations largely focus on the role of SREs, leaving the oversight of program structure and delivery to an SRE to evaluate. In some ways this furthers DOL’s goal of removing the federal government from oversight of a program, but it also creates a certain level of confusion over the role an SRE would play when compared with the entity running an industry-recognized program. For example, an SRE would be tasked with doing outreach to participants to ensure EEO opportunities for all workers in programs the SRE recognizes. In practice, however, it’s difficult to see the incentive for or ability of an oversight or accrediting entity in recruitment on behalf of a business or education provider, who would presumably have the connections in a community to reach a broader set of participants.  

DOL does recognize entities that help businesses or local areas implement or run programs may serve as SREs and requires SREs to submit information that this technical assistance role will not influence their role as an SRE, and solicits comments on how to best implement this firewall.  

Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs 

They proposed rule does, however, define the types of programs an SRE can recognize. To be eligible for recognition, a program must include:  

  1. Training for a job that “require[s] specialized knowledge and experience.DOL is soliciting comments on whether it should set a competency baseline for programs that meet this standard, and if the phrase, “progressively advancing” is an adequate definition of the types of skills someone would develop under industry recognized programs.  

  1. Structured work experience coupled with classroom or training related instruction necessary to earn industry-recognized credentials. DOL solicits comments on the effectiveness of SREs’ establishment of competency-based standards will provide enough guidance to industry-recognized programs to ensure programs have value.  

  1. An employment relationship during which an apprentice is paid at least minimum wage 

  1. Apprentice access to earning credit for training, where possible. And 

  1. structured mentorship opportunities.  

The proposed regs explicitly requires SREs to ensure programs adhere to all safety and equal employment laws, but require no specific action towards these goals, unlike higher standards required of registered programs under 29 CFR 29.  

The regulations also empower industry-recognized programs to access a streamlined process for applying as a registered program, however DOL recognizes the intention of the new program is to expand work-based learning opportunities to new programs and not to create a duplicative system.  

Funding Availability 

As discussed above, applications for the newly announced funding, Apprenticeships: Closing the Skills Gap grant program, are due September 24th 

DOL anticipates funding up to 30 partnerships up to $6 million. Applicants will be required to show participation of an “apprenticeship partnership,” with representatives from businesses, education providers and option partners such as joint labor-management partnerships, community organizations, workforce boards, community organizations and other education providers. This funding opportunity is consistent with the grants awarded this week under the Sector Strategies to Expand Apprenticeship grants, and includes an added recognition of the role a robust partnership can play in ensuring effective program expansion and development, consistent with NSC recommendations. Applicants are also required to include a description of support services – such as childcare and transportation – for which funds will be used and “convincingly demonstrate how these services will support apprentices in successfully remaining in and completing” programs, also consistent with NSC recommendations.  

Congressional Progress 

Just last week, the House passed a Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 funding bill that would limit the $200 million for apprenticeship to registered programs, voting down an amendment offered by Rep. French Hill (R-AK) to allow DOL to spend this funding to expand IRAPs.  

The Senate has not yet released a draft of their bill, but funding levels are unlikely to match those in the House version. Democrats will likely push for language that restricts funding to registered programs, consistent with that in previous appropriations bills.  

After initial momentum around a bipartisan apprenticeship bill last Congress, members have both been focused on other education and workforce priorities – like reauthorizing the Higher Education Act – and have been unable to reach further bipartisan consensus around a comprehensive package. Several smaller bills, including NSC priorities of supporting local, industry-driven sector partnerships and investing in work-based learning and support services as a component of an infrastructure package, have been introduced this Congress, though, and are markers for next steps in Congressional activity.  

NSC will submit comments on the regulations and will share a template of these comments for partners to personalize to your work in the coming weeks.  

Posted In: Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education