On Jan. 17, 2024, the Federal Register published the controversial 626-page U.S. Department of Labor proposed rule that would make significant revisions to the National Apprenticeship System that will affect ABC members, chapters, apprentices and other industry stakeholders participating in government-registered apprenticeship programs.

On Jan. 30, 2024, from 2 to 3:15 p.m. ET, ABC is offering a members-only webinar on the proposed rule where you will learn about the problematic and beneficial provisions of the rule and hear how you can best participate in regulatory and advocacy efforts to help improve this extensive regulation. Encourage ABC member and chapter education professionals, human resources, management professionals and other stakeholders to register to attend the webinar.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration abruptly cancelled its Jan. 11 webinar summarizing the proposed rule. The webinar has been rescheduled for Jan. 25 at 2 p.m. ET.

The deadline for public comments on the DOL proposal is March 18, 60 days after the proposal was published in the Federal Register. ABC submitted a request to extend the deadline by 30 days.

DOL Proposal Widely Criticized

On Dec. 18, ABC issued a press release in response to the ABC-opposed proposal, which the DOL published a preliminary version of on Dec. 14:

“ABC supports government-registered apprenticeship programs and offers more than 450 such education programs across the country as part of its all-of-the-above approach to meet the workforce needs of the construction industry,” said Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs. “ABC is thoroughly reviewing the Biden DOL’s overreaching, 779-page proposal and is concerned that aspects of the proposed rule will 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,” said Brubeck. “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.

“The misguided proposal will discourage employer participation in the GRAP system by adding more bureaucracy and paperwork requirements while also eliminating flexible competency-based approaches to workforce development that benefit apprentices and employers,” said Brubeck. “As currently written, the Biden’s proposal threatens to undermine significant investments recently made by taxpayers in infrastructure, clean energy and manufacturing projects procured by government and private owners.”

The Biden DOL’s proposed rule was also panned by both the chairwoman of the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and the ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee Bill Cassidy, R-La.

Rep. Foxx’s statement derided the new rule, stating, “If the goal was to make an already dysfunctional registered apprenticeship system less workable and relevant to the needs of workers and employers, this proposed rule appears likely to succeed.”

Sen. Cassidy’s statement criticized the rule’s circumvention of Congress, seeking to implement a new regulation “395 times longer than the legislation it is supposedly interpreting.” According to Cassidy’s statement:

“The regulations would inject political ideology into the National Apprenticeship System, including diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies. The rule would allow DOL to dissolve the apprenticeship programs of employers accused by labor unions of misconduct without a requirement that the charges are verified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This would empower unions to intimidate and coerce employers with baseless accusations. It would also give unions veto authority over new apprenticeship programs, limiting job training opportunities for American workers. This comes at a time when workforce shortages continue and the labor force participation rate remains well below pre-COVID levels.

“Additionally, the rule gives the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship and State Apprenticeship Agencies enforcement authority over labor disputes, a role already performed by the NLRB. Ultimately, the proposed regulation applies more bureaucracy to a system in need of flexibility when responding to pressing workforce needs.”

The Biden proposal was also roasted in a Wall Street Journal editorial (Biden to Apprentices, You’re Fired, Dec. 18):

“DOL’s manifest goal is to limit non-union programs that don’t result in more union jobs. The rule would let the department dissolve programs accused by unions of misconduct or found to be non-compliant with minor government regulations and DEI benchmarks.

“One result of DOL’s regulations will be fewer job-training opportunities for minorities. The rule will also undercut the Administration’s industrial policy and climate agenda. The Inflation Reduction Act’s myriad green energy tax credits require employers to utilize apprentices from government-approved programs. Good luck finding them.

“President Biden’s message to non-union apprentices: You’re fired.”

Next Steps

In the coming weeks, ABC will provide detailed analysis and resources on the proposal to construction industry stakeholders and government-registered apprenticeship program providers and participants.

ABC will also request feedback from employers, chapters, the CTE community and other affected parties on aspects of the proposal that are problematic, as well as those that may be beneficial to the construction industry.

In addition, ABC will submit comments on the proposed rule and make recommendations that will help create a final rule that can deliver value to taxpayers, the construction industry workforce and employer participants in the GRAP system.

ABC members should register for the Jan. 30, 2024, webinar from 2 to 3:15 p.m. ET to learn more.

Please contact Michael Altman for additional information.

Additional Background

On May 9, 2023, an ABC-led coalition of construction and business associations submitted a letter to the Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships opposing the committee’s recommendations to the DOL for dramatic changes to the GRAP system. These recommendations included a proposal to establish a new “Quality Seal” program to give preferential treatment to GRAPs meeting certain requirements.

It appears that some aspects of the ACA’s recommendations opposed by the coalition were incorporated into the proposal, which is likely to undermine employer and employee participation in GRAP system.

Visit abc.org/workforce to learn how ABC is building the people who build America and contact Michael Altman to learn more about the proposal.