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Initial Reaction the President’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion Recommendations

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Efforts to expand apprenticeships to new industry sectors like HVACR, healthcare, and cyber security are benefiting from an ever-tightening labor market paired with President Trump’s 2017 Executive Order establishing a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion.

On May 10, nearly one year and five meetings later, the Task Force submitted their Final Report to the President. Co-chaired by Secretaries Acosta- Labor, DeVos- Education, and Ross- Commerce, and made up of 20 representatives from business, labor, and higher education, the Task Force was charged with providing a road map for acting on the administration’s desire to expand apprenticeship programs.

My first reaction to the Report’s recommendations are wide ranging, touching on some of the important steps that should be taken to expand apprenticeship to new populations and industries. Those include better integrating apprenticeship with higher education, building pathways for high school students to apprenticeships, building the apprenticeship research and evidence base, and calling out the value of competency versus time-based apprenticeship programs.

I was extremely pleased to see a top focus placed on reducing the barriers for more employers to start and run apprenticeship programs. The Report offers more information on the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) concept, the centerpiece of the Administration’s apprenticeship push, first introduced in the 2017 Executive Order. There is some insight into the differences between Registered Apprenticeships and IRAPs, and the recommendations preview the role of new “third party” organizations, like ACCA, might play in governing and implementing the proposed IRAP system. Secretary Acosta signaled during the meeting that more details are coming soon from the Department of Labor.

What exactly is the role of IRAP certifiers?

The Task Force recommends the development of an IRAP system built around third-party certifiers, a role that seems tailored perfectly for ACCA. With the focus ACCA has played in expanding apprenticeships, it seems like a natural fit for us to play an even larger role. IRAPs envision outsourcing the quality assurance of programs to groups like ours that already focus on education and training. Hopefully future guidance will clarify any role for third-party certifiers and establish clear guardrails that protect quality and accountability.

How will IRAPs be funded?

The Report calls for needed clarification about whether or how any funding will be made available to the third party IRAP certifying organizations, or whether the services they offer to employers will be funded through some other means. There is also the question of programs themselves. Against the backdrop of concerns about student debt, apprenticeship is seen as an affordable pathway to rewarding jobs. The Report hints that IRAPs should be designed to be “more affordable for apprentices” and suggests that income-share agreements might be a vehicle for getting there. Income-share agreements require an individual to pay a specified percentage of future earnings to an entity that pays for their education. Apprenticeship is, by design, an earn-learn strategy. Having apprentices pay back the full cost of their training could shift from the current model of employers, not apprentices footing the cost of training, and help address retention issues our industry faces.

Will IRAPs be eligible for existing federal apprenticeship investments?

For three years running, Congress has appropriated funds to support the expansion of Registered Apprenticeship programs that did not directly benefit most ACCA members. The Report suggests that IRAPs should also benefit from those funds, and in turn our members would benefit. It also offers a number of recommendations about connecting IRAPs with the public workforce system. If IRAPs do become automatically eligible for WIOA funds, a special status that Registered Apprenticeship program currently enjoy, it will be critical to secure funding due to additional strain to a system that is already underfunded.

It is important to remember that this Report is the product of a Task Force, an advisory body with no policymaking authority. But these recommendations offer important signals as to where the administration could be headed with IRAPs. As the Task Force itself acknowledged in the Report, the biggest opponent to Trump administration’s moving forward with IRAPs as a parallel system to the existing, Registered Apprenticeship, often associated with Union operations, which could slow the needed expansion of apprenticeships in the United States.

With the increased focus at the federal level and across industries, American apprenticeship is heading in a promising new direction that should soon benefit ACCA members. The Trump administration’s embrace of apprenticeship is an encouraging sign that good policy ideas can still find their way through the noise of Washington. But the Report still leaves many key questions around the development and design of “industry-certified” apprenticeships unanswered. We look forward to continuing our work with the Administration on implementing their plan in the weeks and months ahead.

Barton James

Posted In: Government

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