July 2, 2019
Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the opening of a 60-day comment period on proposed updates to 29 CFR Part 29, the regulations that govern the national apprenticeship system. Though it was easily the most consequential announcement in apprenticeship policy all year, the proposed regulatory change is by no means the only big news lately.
A new tranche of $184 million in apprenticeship grant funding has also been released, with another $100 million now up for grabs. And from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), a new experimental sites initiative aims to better engage the private sector in Federal Work-Study by increasing the availability of federal funds for work-based learning opportunities like apprenticeship. Taken together, these efforts could spell significant changes for the role apprenticeship plays in workforce development and higher education in the United States. Below, we give an overview of each initiative, highlighting the main issues to watch.
As IRAP rulemaking begins, DOL presses ahead recruiting referees for the new system
The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) issued last week is the first step toward codifying the Trump administration’s signature apprenticeship strategy: industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs). The new IRAP system will exist in parallel alongside the long-standing system of Registered Apprenticeship, but industry-based Standards Recognition Entities (SREs) will oversee quality assurance instead of the federal government and state apprenticeship agencies. Since the DOL published its proposed rule on June 25th, the clock has started ticking on another 60-day period during which the public can submit comments, questions, and suggestions. Though the Department has invited feedback on specific questions, commenters do not need to limit their responses to these areas of concern.
Over recent months, our team at the Center on Education & Skills has written about the administration’s process for standing up the new IRAP system and responded to earlier opportunities for public comment. We were pleased to see that a number of our concerns around quality assurance and access to federal funding for IRAPs were addressed or clarified. That said, we are still concerned by the Department’s sequencing of the process, as DOL is inviting applications from organizations interested in being recognized as SREs before it has finished the rule-making process, or clearly defined what an IRAP is and is not. We also have concerns about the practical ability of SREs to fulfill some of the roles envisioned for them, particularly in relation to data collection and equal employment opportunity regulations. Over the next few weeks, our team will thoroughly evaluate and comment on the proposed regulations.
$184m in H-1B grants go to sector-based apprenticeship strategies, with more on the way
In October 2018, DOL announced grant funding to support initiatives aimed at expanding apprenticeships through sector strategies—partnerships bringing together employers, educational institutions, and community-based organizations to support workforce development. The grant opportunity, funded by employer fees to sponsor H-1B visas for skilled workers, was notable for its requirement that the lead applicant be a higher education institution as well as for its ambitious goals: to be eligible, proposals had to detail how the applicants would serve at least 800 apprentices.
Though the grant-making process was delayed for several months, DOL announced the recipients of the grants last month, coinciding with the IRAP NPRM. The award list is a Who’s Who of college and industry leaders in apprenticeship, and to judge by the successes of past recipients of H-1B funding, we should expect exciting new developments in the coming years. Since the 2018 funding announcement did not require that programs be Registered Apprenticeships to receive funding, it will be important to keep an eye on the quality control measures that grantees implement. Still, $184 million in new apprenticeship funding—plus a further $100 million that DOL plans to award by February 2020—is something to smile about.
Federal Work-Study experiment explores a new avenue for work-based learning
In 2017, our team included reforms to Federal Work-Study (FWS) among our eight recommendations to better connect apprenticeship and higher education systems. A new policy experiment, announced this May under the ED’s Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI), could make it easier for more learners to be college students and apprentices at the same time.
Under the ESI, the Secretary of Education can grant waivers of statutory or regulatory provisions to test alternative methods of administering federal financial aid. The new FWS experiment will lift caps on the number of students that can be employed by private companies at participating institutions, allow participating students to work more than 10 hours per week in qualifying jobs, and let institutions to pay wages to low-income students participating in unpaid internships or clinicals that are required for their program. The experiment also aims to determine whether allowing institutions to use FWS funding to cover a greater share of students’ wages will increase the availability of formal work-based learning partnerships, namely apprenticeships.
Though the FWS system still suffers from imbalances in its funding formula, the possibility of more students taking jobs that are relevant to their career paths—including apprenticeships—is well worth pursuing. Postsecondary institutions interested in participating in the FWS ESI should apply by July 8, 2019.