Biden takes aim at IRAPs

President Joe Biden (Photo: Courtesy of the White House)

The Biden administration this week took a step to curb a fledgling federal apprenticeship program started under the Trump administration that was designed to ease some bureaucratic restrictions in order to make apprenticeships appealing to more businesses.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday rescinded an executive order signed by former President Donald Trump that created the industry-recognized apprenticeship program (IRAP). U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) later in the day announced that it would suspend its acceptance and review of new or pending applications for standards recognition entities (SREs) for IRAPs. The entities were designed to approve and oversee IRAPs.

Biden’s actions also direct federal agencies to consider taking steps promptly to rescind any orders, rules, regulations, guidelines or policies implementing that order, though any proposed changes to the regulation will include a public notice and comment rulemaking, according to DOL.

The suspension won’t affect the 27 already-approved SREs, and all IRAPs recognized by an SRE will continue to perform their IRAP functions, according to DOL. Previously approved SREs may also continue to recognize additional IRAPs.

Doubling down on registered apprenticeships

IRAPs have been a sticky political issue since the Trump administration introduced them as an alternative to registered apprenticeships. Supporters of IRAPs say they loosen unnecessary bureaucratic red tape that would open apprenticeships to more businesses, especially small and medium-size companies. But opponents contend that IRAPs don’t offer the same quality of programming or worker protections as more formal registered apprenticeships.

“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 fact sheet.

The White House also noted that it plans to bolster traditional registered apprenticeships, noting it was meeting with labor leaders to discuss jobs that could be created through a federal plan to revamp the nation’s infrastructure.

“President Biden has called for the jobs created by rebuilding America’s infrastructure to be filled by diverse, local, well-trained workers who have a choice to join a union,” the fact sheet said. “This starts by expanding registered apprenticeship programs and investing in pipelines into these programs.”

The White House said Biden supports a recently passed House bill which will create and expand registered apprenticeships, youth apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs.

Reconvening the advisory committee

The president also is calling for DOL to reinstate the longstanding National Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships. The committee would include a diverse set of stakeholders – including unions, employers, apprentices, community colleges and other institutions – and ensure the programs would be accessible to women, people of color and immigrants, who have low participation rates among traditional apprenticeships. The administration also would like to expand the use of apprenticeships into other industries such as IT and healthcare – an idea that Biden championed when he serve as vice president during the Obama administration.

“As we rebuild our economy from this crisis, the Advisory Committee will have the opportunity to focus on expanding apprenticeships into new employment industries and sectors like clean energy, technology, and healthcare to create more high-quality training and employment opportunities,” the White House said.

About the Author

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