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The U.S. Department of Labor today announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking public comment on a proposal to eliminate the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program, allowing the department to direct its resources toward expanding access to good-paying jobs through Registered Apprenticeships and create reliable pathways to middle class.

The proposed rule is the latest of several actions taken by the department in response to President Biden’s Executive Order 14016, including the suspension of review of applications for Standard Recognition Entities in the Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Program. The proposal is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s larger apprenticeship effort, including expanding and strengthening the proven Registered Apprenticeship model, investing in pipelines to these programs, and improving the quality of apprenticeship programs.

The proposed rule would rescind the regulatory framework used to establish and govern IRAPs. If the proposal is finalized, the department will work with previously recognized SREs and IRAPs to explore options to become program sponsors or intermediaries under the Registered Apprenticeship system.

In the NPRM, the department explains that IRAPs created a duplicative system that could lead to lower quality standards for training and poorer safety and welfare protections for apprentices compared to Registered Apprenticeship Programs. Unlike IRAPs, Registered Apprenticeships are also required to provide apprentices with progressively increasing wages, which serve as an important incentive to attract and recruit apprentices while developing a pipeline of local, diverse, well-trained workers to meet talent needs across a diverse array of industries, and increase the competitiveness of the U.S. workforce.

Nov 15 Federal Register notice: The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL or the Department) proposes to rescind its regulation regarding Standards Recognition Entities (SREs) of Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs). Specifically, the proposed rule would rescind the regulatory framework for the Department's recognition of SREs and SREs' role in recognizing IRAPs, and make necessary conforming changes to the Department's registered apprenticeship regulations (29 CFR part 29). To be ensured consideration, comments must be received on or before January 14, 2022.
On June 15, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13801, “Expanding Apprenticeships in America” (82 FR 28229), which directed the Secretary to consider issuing regulations that promote the development of IRAPs by third parties. Section 8(b)(iii) of E.O. 13801 also established a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion (Task Force) to identify strategies and proposals to promote apprenticeships, to include “the most effective strategies for creating industry-recognized apprenticeships.” Based on E.O. 13801 and the Task Force's recommendations, the Department issued a new rule entitled “Apprenticeship Programs, Labor Standards for Registration, Amendment of Regulations” (IRAP rule), codified at 29 CFR part 29, subpart B, which established the IRAP system. 85 FR 14294 (Mar. 11, 2020).

The IRAP rule established a process for DOL's Office of Apprenticeship (OA) Administrator (Administrator) to recognize qualified third-party entities, known as SREs, which would, in turn, evaluate and recognize IRAPs. The IRAP rule set forth the requirements for third-party entities applying for Departmental recognition as SREs. It also identified certain requirements apprenticeship programs must meet in order to obtain recognition from SREs as IRAPs. The IRAP rule was published on March 11, 2020, and went into effect on May 11, 2020. As of the date of this proposed rule, the Department has recognized 27 SREs, which have, in turn, recognized 175 IRAPs, with 165 of these programs recognized by a single SRE.

On February 17, 2021, President Biden issued E.O. 14016, “Revocation of Executive Order 13801” (86 FR 11089), which in section 2 directed Federal agencies to “promptly consider taking steps to rescind any orders, rules, regulations, guidelines, or policies” implementing E.O. 13801.

Pursuant to E.O. 14016, on February 17, 2021, the Department announced it would be undertaking a review of the IRAP system and as a result suspended the acceptance of new applications to become a recognized SRE and suspended making final determinations for organizations that had already submitted an application to become a recognized SRE. The Department advised that all SREs already approved by the Department and all IRAPs recognized by an SRE could continue to perform their functions as described in the regulation, to include the recognition of new IRAPs.

The Department's review of the IRAP system and proposed rescission of the IRAP rule has been informed by the Administration's priority to create jobs “to be filled by diverse, local, well-trained workers who have a choice to join a union” through strengthening RAPs. The Department is focused on rebuilding the middle class, connecting a diverse workforce to family-sustaining jobs, and playing an active role in the rebuilding of the workforce to address the effects of the 2019 Coronavirus Disease pandemic in a manner consistent with its mission to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” As such, the Department plays an important role in ensuring workers are paid a fair wage, provided a safe workplace, and provided the tools and training necessary to access equitable economic opportunity and success. This mission is always important, but even more so as the country emerges and begins to recover from the 2019 Coronavirus Disease pandemic. The pandemic has led to millions of workers becoming unemployed, and it has exposed vulnerabilities and fissures in our economy as a result of systemic racism and economic inequality, of which the burdens were felt greatest by low-wage earners and communities of color. The Department views the registered apprenticeship system—a system that has benefited thousands of workers and employers throughout its existence—as a far more effective system than IRAPs for delivering on DOL's mission to help workers access family-sustaining jobs, protect the safety and welfare of apprentices, and reach out to underserved communities.

The IRAP rule, conversely, does not align with the Administration's and Department's priorities for several reasons, as discussed in further detail below. Among them is that IRAPs have fewer quality training and worker protection standards than RAPs and, contrary to the conclusions in the IRAP rule, the Department no longer considers it appropriate or necessary to create an additional apprenticeship model, particularly one that does not guarantee the same protections for apprentices. The IRAP rule also threatens to undermine the robust and successful registered apprenticeship system by creating a duplicative system that lacks sufficient oversight and quality necessary to ensure the Department endorses programs meeting the needs of the American workforce and economy. Although the IRAP rule was premised on the idea that parallel apprenticeship systems were preferable as a means to better grow apprenticeship generally, upon further consideration and review the Department thinks that the existence of two parallel systems overseen by the Department is an inefficient and ineffective use of its resources.

In the IRAP rule, IRAPs were touted as a more flexible, industry-driven model that would enable expansion of apprenticeship into new industries and occupations. However, as explained in greater detail below, the Department has reconsidered this conclusion and now thinks that the IRAP rule is redundant and not necessary to broaden the scope of apprenticeship coverage by industry. In addition, upon review the Department now thinks that the IRAP rule does not provide adequate focus on worker needs and protections, does not ensure adequate program quality standards, does not provide sufficient equal employment opportunity protections for apprentices, and does not provide a proven pathway to family-sustaining jobs.

The Department therefore believes that focusing its efforts and resources on expanding the registered apprenticeship system will more effectively meet the needs of industry and workers alike, and has concluded that the best path forward is to rescind the IRAP rule and focus on further strengthening the successful registered apprenticeship system.

FR notice inviting comments on proposed IRAP rule rescission and rationale: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/11/15/2021-24786/apprenticeship-programs-labor-standards-for-registration

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