Wrestling over IRAPs

John Pallasch, assistant secretary for employment and training at the U.S. Department of Labor, speaks at a House hearing Wednesday on apprenticeships. (Image: Screenshot of committee hearing streamed online)

About $1.1 million of federal funding appropriated for registered apprenticeships was used for a proposed apprenticeship model led by industry, even though congressional lawmakers specifically prohibited the department from doing so.

John Pallasch, assistant secretary for employment and training at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), acknowledged during a House hearing on Wednesday that funding appropriated for DOL’s Training and Education Services (TES) was “misapplied” toward activities that directly supported so-called industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs). Speaking at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing on apprenticeships, Pallasch said he become aware of the issue when he arrived at ETA this past July and immediately corrected it. He added that the department is working on additional protocols to ensure it won’t happen again.

The Office of the Inspector General is investigating the matter.

Even though TES funds can only be used for registered apprenticeships (RAs), Pallasch noted that the department has flexibility in its Program Administration funding, which it has used on some activities related to IRAPs. DOL this summer released a proposal for an IRAP structure that would run in tandem with its registered apprenticeship program.

Efforts on registered apprenticeships

Democrats at the hearing focused much of their time asking Pallasch whether DOL is focusing so much on IRAPs that it’s affecting the registered apprentice program. They queried him about how many staffers in the Office of Apprenticeship work on IRAPs, and why six of DOL’s 25 state apprenticeship offices had no leadership for much of the past year. They also asked whether vacancies in the office have impeded efforts to streamline registration for registered apprenticeship programs and to implement nondiscrimination regulations.

Related articles: ‘Senate Dems down on IRAPs‘ and ‘A look at one of Ohio’s new IRAPs

Pallasch said DOL is working to expand RAs, noting that more than 640,000 new apprentices have joined since 2017. To encourage more employers to participate, DOL has reduced the paperwork associated with the RA application from 65 pages to 12.

DOL also this year launched a grant program to expand apprenticeship pathways focused on next-generation jobs, providing $100 million in grants, he said.

In addition, the department is working with the U.S. Education Department and other federal agencies on outreach efforts to better inform school officials, families and students about apprenticeships and careers in technical fields.

Different paths

During the hearing, both Republicans and Democrats lauded the benefits of RAs. In fact, both sides cited the same figures that 94 percent of registered apprentices are employed upon completion, with a starting average salary of $70,000.

Both sides said they want to ramp up apprenticeships to help fill workforce shortages. But this is where they part ways: Democrats want to expand the RA program, saying the IRAP model is unproven and would not follow similar pay increases for advancements typically seen in registered apprenticeships or provide similar protections to ensure safe working environments. Meanwhile, Republicans want to continue working with the RA program but argue that an IRAP program would encourage more employers to use apprenticeships as part of their workforce development at a time when they are desperate for skilled employees.

“Registered apprenticeships are one tool we can use to strengthen the workforce, but it’s important to give recognition to increasingly innovative and growing employer-led apprenticeships,” said Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pennsylvania), noting that employer-led apprenticeship programs account for more than 80 percent of all apprenticeship programs.

He observed that the president’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion last year included among its recommendations a pilot test of IRAPs in fields that don’t have well-established registered apprenticeships.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.