The White House is discontinuing a Trump administration workforce initiative that sought to deregulate government-funded apprenticeship programs by shifting oversight to industry groups.
The Biden administration will instead focus on the Labor Department’s traditional registered apprenticeships favored by organized labor—which require tougher standards for program operators—as the pathway to expand the nation’s earn-as-you-learn job-training system.
The IRAP model was supported by some companies and congressional Republicans for its emphasis on giving employers more flexibility in training workers without the red tape of the registered apprenticeship process—a model that dates back more than eight decades.
But the concept spurred significant criticism from building trades unions and Democratic lawmakers, who worried it would undermine organized labor’s talent pipeline by letting builders form their own apprenticeship programs without the wage and safety protections guaranteed when unions are involved.
“Industry-recognized apprenticeship programs have fewer quality standards than registered apprenticeship programs—for example, they fail to require the wage progression that reflects increasing apprentice skills and they lack the standardized training rigor that ensures employers know they are hiring a worker with high-quality training,” the White House said in a statement.
The industry-recognized system had sought to expand on-the-job training to new business sectors by allowing private companies to create their own programs with minimal government interference; the process of approving standards for the program was outsourced to private third parties.
Yet despite being one of DOL’s central priorities for new programs under Trump, the project was slow to come to fruition, as Democrats in Congress blocked funding and the implementing regulations weren’t finalized until last year.
The first IRAP wasn’t announced until Oct. 20, 2020, when Raytheon Technologies was selected as a pilot participant.
“President Biden’s move to end IRAPs will kill jobs. Period. Doubling down on an inefficient, 80-year-old system that is unresponsive to workers’ needs is not a solution, it is irresponsible,” said Rep.
In addition to rescinding the 2017 executive order, Biden asked the Labor Department to consider issuing a new regulation to reverse its 2020 final rule that established the IRAP structure, and to “immediately slow support” for the programs by ceasing consideration of new or pending applications to serve as “standards recognition entities.” SREs are third parties, such as trade associations or groups of companies, that have authority to recognize and oversee individual IRAPs.
DOL clarified that Biden’s decision won’t affect the 27 SREs that already were approved during the Trump administration.
“All IRAPs recognized by an SRE will continue to perform their IRAP functions,” the department said in a statement Wednesday. “Previously approved SREs may also continue to recognize additional IRAPs.”
The White House announcement came before a scheduled meeting among Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and labor union leaders where they were expected to discuss the president’s Covid-19 stimulus plan and his eventual push for an infrastructure package.