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1) Jan 17 --  The Department of Labor (DOL or the Department) is proposing issuing this notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM or proposed rule) to revise the regulations for registered apprenticeship by enhancing worker protections and equity, improving the quality of registered apprenticeship programs, revising the State governance provisions, and more clearly establishing critical pipelines to registered apprenticeship programs, such as registered career and technical education (CTE) apprenticeships. The proposed rule would improve the capacity of the National Apprenticeship System to respond to evolving employer needs, provide workers equitable pathways to good jobs, and increase the system’s long-term resilience.  DATES: Interested persons are invited to submit written comments on the proposed rule on or before March 18, 2024.

The Department's current regulations at 29 CFR part 29 addressing labor standards of apprenticeship and the governance of the National Apprenticeship System were last updated in a final rule published on October 29, 2008 (73 FR 64402). In this proposed rule, the Department seeks to strengthen, expand, modernize, and diversify the National Apprenticeship System by enhancing worker protections and equity, improving the quality of registered apprenticeship programs, and revising the State Apprenticeship Agency (SAA) governance provisions so that the National Apprenticeship System is more navigable and responsive to current worker and employer needs.

The proposed rule would enhance the ability of the Employment and Training Administration's (ETA) Office of Apprenticeship (OA) to implement and administer the National Apprenticeship Act of 1937 (NAA), Act of Aug. 16, 1937, 75th Cong., ch. 663, 50 Stat. 664 (codified as amended at 29 U.S.C. 50), including approving apprenticeship programs and standards as a Registration Agency and recognizing SAAs, to protect the safety and welfare of apprentices, and to meet the 21st century skill needs of industry. Central to the expanded role is the ability to promote the value of apprenticeship, advance the benefits of apprenticeship as a diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) strategy for program sponsors, maintain National Apprenticeship System data for Registration Agencies, facilitate registered apprenticeship across the United States, and develop partnerships with stakeholders throughout the National Apprenticeship System.

Essential to strengthening, modernizing, expanding, and diversifying the National Apprenticeship System is the advancement of worker protections and equity. The Department's proposal would create more safeguards for apprentices to ensure that they have healthy and safe working and learning environments as well as just and equitable opportunities throughout their participation in a registered apprenticeship program. This emphasis on worker protections and equity for apprentices is founded on the recognition that some populations, such as women and people of color, have historically faced systemic barriers to successfully access, participate in, and complete a registered apprenticeship program. This proposed rule seeks to mitigate barriers and facilitate equal access and greater success for underserved communities, as defined in proposed § 29.2. Additionally, the proposed rule seeks to enhance opportunities for younger workers to safely and equitably participate in registered apprenticeship programs.

Through this proposed rule, the Department is proposing to modernize and standardize the criteria and process for developing quality labor standards for apprenticeship. To maintain the integrity of registered apprenticeship as an industry-driven workforce development model, the Department recognizes that all apprenticeship programs must maintain labor standards that are objective, accountable, flexible and efficient. The Department seeks to fulfill this modernization effort by creating a framework for developing minimum labor standards of apprenticeship that combines the key attributes of the competency- and time-based approaches to on-the-job training into a unitary, coherent training model across all programs. The Department anticipates that modernizing and standardizing the labor standards for all registered apprenticeship programs would support the expansion of registered apprenticeships into new industries and occupations that do not have an established history with registered apprenticeship: programs in these industries new to apprenticeship would benefit from increased avenues to contribute to the development of industry- and occupation-specific training regimens, and from the increased clarity established by the universal baseline standards the Department seeks to apply across all registered programs. In addition, the Department is institutionalizing National Program Standards for Apprenticeship and National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards and aligning them with National Occupational Standards for Apprenticeship, a product that would further standardize industry-validated occupational standards for apprenticeship.

The Department's proposal would also create a more objective, proactive, and transparent process for the determination of occupations suitable for registered apprenticeship that balances the flexibility needed to accommodate programs in new and emerging industries while establishing safeguards against adverse impacts to existing, established registered apprenticeship programs. The Department's proposed updates to the suitability process are designed to include flexibilities that would support expansion of the registered apprenticeship model to emergent occupations in non-traditional apprenticeship industries while providing protections against the splintering of existing programs covering occupations previously established as suitable for apprenticeship training (which could have a negative impact on workers' wages and job quality). The Department seeks to reinforce that new occupations suitable for registered apprenticeship meet industry-recognized criteria that support apprentices' ability to access a lifelong career pathway and attain economic mobility. Ensuring that registered apprenticeship programs lead to quality careers and enhance apprentices' economic mobility is one of the Department's guiding principles in overseeing the National Apprenticeship System, grounded in its statutory responsibility to protect the welfare of apprentices and the Administration's priority to promote economic opportunity for underrepresented or underserved populations. To help ensure that apprentices obtain the requisite skills and competencies for proficiency in an occupation suitable for registered apprenticeship, the Department has also proposed a new requirement in their approved quality labor standards for the assessment of apprentice progress by means of an end-point assessment.

The Department is also proposing to revise the framework for collecting program sponsor and apprentice data to ensure greater accountability, transparency, and equity, and would utilize the information collected to oversee program reviews, improve apprentice demographic data, and establish new program- and system-level metrics and indicators.

The Department has consulted, where appropriate, with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in the development of the proposed registered CTE apprenticeship model, which seeks to align with secondary and postsecondary State-approved CTE programs, namely those funded by the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, as amended by the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (as codified at 20 U.S.C. 2301 et seq.) (Perkins). This new model would establish specific standards of apprenticeship for students enrolled in high school or in community and technical colleges who seek to continue their education while participating in the labor market, and would provide students opportunities to attain a recognized postsecondary credential, complete college coursework and a registered apprenticeship program, and participate in paid on-the-job learning. This model is intended to result in participating students' enrollment in a postsecondary educational program, an apprenticeship program registered under subpart A, placement into employment, or a combination thereof. The registered CTE apprenticeship regulations as proposed would not govern or otherwise impact the operation of ED's Perkins CTE program, but rather the program would offer State-approved CTE programs as an additional discretionary program, which could provide students the benefits of participation in both CTE and an aligned registered CTE apprenticeship program.

Finally, the Department is proposing to revise State governance requirements for States seeking to be recognized by OA as an SAA State, and for renewing such status. The Department proposes revising the governance process to promote greater uniformity and accountability, including the establishment of a State planning requirement involving the development of a strategic vision and goals to expand and diversify registered apprenticeship, as well as robust data collection and reporting to track the achievement of systemwide goals. Through this proposed revision, the Department also sees an opportunity for States to lead on innovation and partner with intermediaries to create an interconnected ecosystem that can support existing and new industries and career seekers in the National Apprenticeship System.

FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-27851 [181 pages]

2) Dec 14 [press release] -- The U.S. Department of Labor today announced a notice of proposed rulemaking to enhance the National Apprenticeship System by modernizing regulations for Registered Apprenticeships.

The proposed rule would include the following enhancements:

-- Strengthening of labor standards, quality and worker protections by making occupational skills and training more portable, enhancing alignment with postsecondary education and providing better performance data.
-- Better defining roles for State Apprenticeship Agencies and other stakeholders within the National Apprenticeship System.
-- Codifies the Office of Apprenticeship’s role for national leadership, promotion and standards.
-- Promoting apprenticeship pathways, including pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship readiness programs, by expanding performance and data requirements to improve accountability, transparency and program outcomes.
-- Creating a student-centric model of Registered Apprenticeship, called Registered Career and Technical Education Apprenticeship designed to make them more seamless for full-time high school and community college students to enroll in a Registered Apprenticeship. This approach is modeled after high-quality youth apprenticeship systems in states across the country. . . .

The proposal also affirms Registered Apprenticeship as the proven, gold-standard earn-and-learn model for increasing earnings and getting workers into good-paying jobs in many industries; promotes enhanced accountability and transparency; and places added focus on data and outcomes. In addition, the proposed changes reinforce the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, and extend worker protections for apprentices across the industry sectors now benefiting from Registered Apprenticeships.

Upon publication in the Federal Register, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be open for public comment for 60 days. The department encourages comments from all interested stakeholders and will consider all comments received before publishing a final rule.

Press release: https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/eta/eta20231214-0

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