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Federal apprenticeship report getting mixed reviews

May 24, 2018

The President’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion released a new report focused on “strategies and recommendations to promote apprenticeships, especially in sectors where existing apprenticeship programs are insufficient.” A key element of President Trump’s federal workforce development agenda, apprenticeships are seen as an effective tool for addressing the skills gap confronting U.S. employers and a pathway to a well-paying careers for American workers. The report includes recommendations across five areas related to apprenticeships including: education and credentialing; attracting business to apprenticeship; expanding access, equity, and career awareness; and, administrative and regulatory strategies to expand apprenticeship. While proponents of apprenticeships were supportive of several recommendations proposed within the report, the task force also faced criticism due to proposed cuts to other Department of Labor programs to pay for the expansion of federal funding for apprenticeships, and push back and questions from those in higher education.

The primary recommendation of the report would lead to the development of Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship programs (IRAP) – “a new and more flexible apprenticeship” system focused on industry-driven, standards- and competency-based skill development. The report’s authors contend that the current time-based system focused too much on seat-time, or training hours versus skill development. While having reservations about its implementation, analysts from New America — a non-partisan, nonprofit think tank — showed support for the administration’s shift in focus toward a competency-based model.

The task force calls for proposed changes that would simplify and update criteria for federal subsidies for apprenticeship programs. This would allow employers to access funds, previously earmarked for Registered Apprenticeship programs, to launch IRAP with the help of industry groups, institutions of higher education and unions. In the coming weeks, the Department of Labor is expected to publish a guidance document to more clearly spell out how the IRAP would work.

The report includes several recommendations from subcommittees of the task force that have been supported in the past by apprenticeship advocates including:

  • Federal agencies helping support the costs of instruction by increasing access to virtual learning and developing open source core curriculum;
  • The development of a centralized online community with apprenticeship resources;
  • A robust analysis of the skill shortages and the role apprenticeship can play in meeting skill demands;
  • A national awareness campaign, supporting pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs as well as the promotion of technology in apprenticeship programs; and,
  • The creation of a pilot program focused on an industry without a well-established registered apprenticeship system.

Other recommendations that have received praise from New America include better integrating apprenticeship with higher education and building pathways for high school students to apprenticeship. But New America goes on to question some of the findings they say will need to be addressed within forthcoming guidance. For instance, they question what exactly the role of IRAP certifiers will be, how IRAPs will be funded and whether they will be eligible for existing federal apprenticeship investments (possibly straining an already underfunded system), and whether some strategies will water down the requirements of apprenticeship programs that currently protect apprentices and enhance participation of underrepresented populations.

While the National Skills Coalition (NSC) highlights that the report includes some important recommendations focused on industry-driven strategies, the organization also raised concerns about the task force’s recommendations that would reduce funding for other key federal workforce programs in favor of increased funding for the proposed apprenticeship expansion efforts. NSC contends that these cuts to workforce development and education systems would be detrimental because they provide the foundation for the successful completion of apprenticeship programs.

The report also received pushback from institutions of higher education including four-year colleges/universities and two-year community colleges. In the report’s preamble, the task force contends that traditional higher education has failed to adequately prepare its graduates to join the workforce while saddling them with significant debt.

An article from Inside Higher ED highlights some of the response to the report, including that from Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream and a former community college president, who said, “I don’t think the rhetoric should look past the fact that traditional higher education is still highly valued by employers.”

Noting that the task force is an advisory body with no policymaking authority, New America cautions that “the stakes are high,” in apprenticeship concerns and that it looks forward to learning more about the administration’s plans in the coming weeks.



workforce, apprenticeship