The White House announced an executive order to create more registered apprenticeship programs in the federal workforce, encouraging agencies to provide project preferences to recipients who hire individuals who have participated in registered apprenticeship programs.

The order follows a proposed rule issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in December 2023, eliciting a string of objections by industry associations concerned with the impact of changes to the National Apprenticeship System (NAS). In December 2022, officials for the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) labeled proposed revisions to the NAS “controversial.” Officials for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and its nonprofit partner the Home Builders Institute (HBI) said proposed changes would stifle apprenticeship program innovations and flexibility, “as well as place undue burdens on program sponsors and participating employers.”

In March, ABC  submitted comments on DOL’s proposed rule, overhauling regulations related to government-registered apprenticeship programs (GRAPs). In more than 40 pages of comments, ABC urged the DOL to withdraw what officials labeled “illegal and misguided provisions.” Ben Brubeck, ABC’s vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs, said the association was reviewing the associated 779-page proposal, while expressing concern that aspects of the proposed rule would limit the number of apprentices and employers participating in GRAPs.

“Already, the government-registered apprenticeship system is woefully inadequate in meeting the workforce needs of the construction industry,” Brubeck said. “Recent data suggests that it would take 12 years for the current broken GRAP system to educate the more than half a million workers needed by the construction industry in 2023 alone. Additional unclear and onerous requirements in the DOL proposal are likely to exacerbate the construction industry’s skilled labor shortage.”

According to ABC estimates, the construction industry will need to attract 501,000 additional workers, on top of its normal pace of hiring in 2024, to meet the demand for labor. In 2025, the industry will need to add 454,000 new workers on top of its normal hiring.

Based on historical Census Bureau Job-to-Job Flows data, ABC officials said an estimated 1.9 million construction workers will leave the industry in 2024. That number should be offset, they said, by an anticipated 2.1 million workers who will leave other industries to work in construction.

White House officials said registered apprenticeships are a proven strategy for expanding equitable training pathways to good-paying jobs, including union jobs. They explained that the recent order directs the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Labor and other federal agencies to explore opportunities to reduce barriers and create pathways into and up through federal employment using registered apprenticeships.

The order also directs federal agencies to identify requirements or incentives for grant recipients or contractors to employ workers who have participated in registered apprenticeship programs. It directs those agencies to require, incentivize or encourage those requirements or incentives. Additionally, the order re-establishes labor-management forums within the federal government to ensure workers have a voice.

But ABC officials said the order adds more bureaucracy and paperwork.

“Initial feedback on controversial changes to apprenticeship regulations has been overwhelmingly negative and these survey results make it clear that the Biden DOL’s proposed rule will ultimately weaken a key ingredient in the construction industry’s all-of-the-above solution to its short- and long-term skilled workforce shortage,” Brubeck said in February. “Government-registered apprenticeship system stakeholders––apprentices, contractors and apprenticeship providers such as ABC member contractors and chapters––were hoping for solutions to make it easier to establish and administer GRAPs, with the goal of expanding GRAP capacity to recruit more apprentices and meet industry workforce needs.”

According to an ABC survey, 90% of member contractor respondents said they would be less likely to start their own company-run GRAP as a result of changes. At the same time, 94% said changes would increase the cost of participating in or starting a GRAP and 96% said new recordkeeping and reporting requirements will make them less likely to participate in or start their own GRAP.

In a letter addressed to Brent Parton, principal deputy assistant secretary for Employment and Training, Labor, for the U.S. Department of Labor, Susan Asmus, NAHB’s senior vice president of Regulatory Affairs, said apprenticeships are not the only programs needed to address the industry skills gap. NAHB “strongly supports policies that expand opportunities for stakeholder participation and welcomes students, veterans, immigrants and nontraditional workers to the industry,” Asmus said. At the same time, “many of the provisions in the [notice of proposed rule making] reduce the flexibility for all parties to innovate in ways that address their specific needs and increase the compliance burden for participating employers,” Asmus added. That provides a “stark disincentive” for taking part in a program that is designed to help address the industry’s need for employees, she suggested.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *