On Aug. 26, ABC submitted comments on the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed rule on apprenticeship programs, which initially excludes the construction industry and the military from provisions intended to expand apprenticeships and close America’s skills gap.

The proposed rule would establish a process for creating high-quality, industry-recognized apprenticeship programs by organizations that apply to become DOL-recognized Standards Recognition Entities. The DOL would not, at least initially, accept applications from SREs that create “Industry Programs” in construction, because the DOL considers the construction industry a sector that already has significant registered apprenticeship opportunities.

However, only 17,748 apprentices completed federal construction apprenticeship programs in FY2018, according to the DOL. That’s about 4% of the estimated 440,000 additional construction workers that need to be hired in 2019 alone to meet the existing backlog of projects under contract but not yet completed, which stood at nearly nine months in June 2019.

Given the massive skills gap in the United States, ABC recommended an “all-of-the-above” approach to workforce development to the DOL:

  • All Americans should be welcome to participate in the new Industry Programs;
  • Industry Programs would help address the severe worker shortage in construction, which federal registered apprenticeship programs alone are woefully inadequate to meet;
  • The department must not require overly burdensome reporting and data collection similar to those of the current DOL-recognized apprenticeship programs, and;
  • DOL must clearly communicate the value of participating in the new Industry Programs.

The letter also stressed that ABC and its 69 chapters are doing their part to educate craft, safety and management professionals that includes just-in-time task training, competency-based progression, work-based learning, industry-recognized apprenticeship programs and government-registered apprenticeships.

“By excluding all construction industry-recognized workforce development programs from  the proposed rule, DOL is creating a perverse disincentive to increased education opportunities and is prolonging the skills shortage in the construction industry,” said Greg Sizemore, ABC vice president of health, safety, environment and workforce development. “There is a place for both government-registered and market-driven apprenticeships in an industry that is constantly evolving through technology and process improvements. ABC and its 69 chapters are committed to educating craft, safety and management professionals using an all-of-the above workforce strategy to develop a safe, skilled and productive workforce.”

Additional information can be found at DOL’s website, apprenticeship.gov.