IRAPs rule kicks in

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Organizations, including community colleges, can now apply to serve as third-party entities that would review applications for new industry-recognized apprenticeship programs, or IRAPs.

On the same day federal regulations for IRAPs went into effect, the U.S. Department of Labor on Monday opened the online application for so-called “standards recognition entities” (SREs). The new national apprenticeship program is intended to run in tandem with the department’s long-established registered apprenticeship program.

“As workers seek to reenter the workforce following the economic disruption caused by coronavirus, Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs and the SREs that recognize them will provide new opportunities for Americans to earn a living while learning the skills needed in a changing job market,” U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said in a press release. “I encourage industry leaders, educators, and others to consider forming SREs to help drive the expansion of apprenticeships and assist in the economic rebound. In these challenging times, the new apprenticeship opportunities created by IRAPs can open doors to good-paying jobs in industries such as telecommunications, health care, cybersecurity and other sectors.”

Under the final rule, third-party SREs will approve IRAPs submitted from various industry sectors. Many different types of entities may become recognized SREs, including trade groups, companies, educational institutions, state and local governments, non-profits, unions, joint labor-management organizations, and certification and accreditation bodies for a profession or industry.

The rule also outlines the responsibilities and requirements for SREs, as well as the department’s standards that programs must meet to obtain and maintain IRAP status, and it sets how the administrator will oversee SREs. Once recognized by DOL, SREs will work with employers and other entities to establish, recognize and monitor high-quality IRAPs that provide apprentices with industry-recognized credentials.

The back story

The path toward creating IRAPs has been contentious. Supporters argue IRAPs would allow applicants to cut through much bureaucratic red tape and attract more companies to offer apprenticeships as a form of workforce training, especially among small businesses, new and emerging fields and in sectors that don’t typically offer such paid, work-based learning experiences.

However, opponents contend the program would allow companies to circumvent many of the quality standards and safety precautions established in registered apprenticeships. Congress has over the past year debated the merits of IRAPs, with Republicans tending to support it, and Democrats opposing it.

In 2018, a blue-ribbon task force created to study whether apprenticeships could be expanded to help employers find qualified workers recommended creating IRAPs as a pilot program. The administration decided to move ahead with the program by seeking comments for proposed rules, which become final in March.

DOL has added to its apprenticeship website additional information about how to set up an IRAP, including a comparison with registered apprenticeships. The department plans to host in the next few weeks a virtual forum on IRAPs for industry and workforce stakeholders.

About the Author

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