DOL releases guidance on “industry-recognized” apprenticeship programs

By Katie Spiker, August 01, 2018

On July 27th, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued Training and Employment Notice (TEN) 03-18, Creating Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs to Expand Opportunity in America, which outlines the process that will allow trade associations and other non-governmental entities to certify apprenticeship programs as meeting industry standards.

In July 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order to Expand Apprenticeship in America (EO), which called for the establishment of an alternative system of industry-recognized apprenticeships that would not require direct approval by a government entity. The proposed process is intended to make it easier for businesses to gain approval for new programs while also supporting the development of quality assurance standards in industries where apprenticeships are not well utilized.

In the TEN, DOL provides insight in to the process by which a non-governmental entity, like a business association or non-profit intermediary, will be able to qualify as a certifier of industry-recognized apprenticeships and advises organizations interested in playing a certifier role to prepare to submit proposals to DOL. The guidance largely adheres to recommendations from the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, established under the July 2017 EO and whose work culminated in a report to the President earlier this summer.

Distinctions between IRAP and Registered Apprenticeship

Under current law, the U.S. Department of Labor or a state agency registers apprenticeship programs, documenting that the structure of the program’s on-the-job learning, classroom instruction, mentoring and safety components meet certain standards such that successful completion of the program will earn workers a journey-level credential marking their expertise in a certain occupation. These programs are subject to regulations describing the types of occupations for which apprenticeship can be used, structure of training and expertise apprentices need to earn under 29 C.F.R 29 and to detailed rules to promote Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) under 29 C.F.R. 30. Most apprenticeships in the U.S. are – and have been – in the construction industry, with occupations in manufacturing, utilities and transportation sectors also utilizing the training strategy. Occupations in industries like health care, retail, IT and financial services use registered apprenticeship with more frequency in recent years.

The state or federal government oversight required to register a program imbues upon its sponsors certain benefits – several states provide tax credits for registered programs, others support tuition costs and community colleges. Registered programs are automatically eligible to be added to a state’s Eligible Training Provider List (ETPL) under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which is intended to make it easier for training providers running apprenticeships to access federal workforce funds. Registered programs are also required to report less information on participants for which they use workforce funds, in part a recognition that an apprentice is, from the first day of a program and unlike other training programs, an employed worker. Congress has also appropriated nearly $250 million in recent years to DOL to support expansion of registered apprenticeship.

The guidance draws explicit and implicit distinctions between registered apprenticeship and industry-recognized:

  • Industry-recognized apprenticeship cannot be used in the construction industry or for military apprenticeships;
  • Industry-recognized apprenticeships will not be automatically eligible for the ETPL;
  • Industry-recognized apprenticeship program participants will not be considered apprentices under Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws; and
  • The guidance includes a vague catch-all that these programs are ineligible for “other statutory benefits” which presumably includes access to Congressionally appropriated funds targeted to registered programs under 29 C.F.R. 29.

Requirements for Certifiers of Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs

Most of the guidance focused on the role and responsibility of an entity who certifies that the industry-recognized program meets industry needs. More detail is expected in draft regulations this Fall, however the guidance provides general insight into the direction in which DOL is likely to go in those regulations.

To qualify as a certifier, an organization or consortia will have to show:

  • Sufficient expertise in and engagement with a sector to serve as a qualified certifier. Future regulations will presumably offer a definition of what reaches the level of sufficient expertise, but DOL does recognize that there will likely be multiple certifiers within industry sectors.
  • Ability to provide public information on the programs certified, number of completers of a program, those participants pre- and post-program earnings, length of a program, and “post-apprenticeship employment rate.” The TEN cites to data collection required under WIOA and under rules applied to Registered Apprenticeship as models of necessary information certifiers should be prepared to release.
  • Quality of certified programs, defined as programs including a paid work component, structured on-the-job training, mentorship, training related instruction – with a focus on providing college credit for that instruction – the award of an industry recognized credentials, safe workplaces and “equal employment opportunity.”
  • Several procedural components of their capacity as a certifier such as well-established procedures for certifying programs and impartiality and independence from undue influence in doing so.

NSC supports a focus on paid, high quality work-based learning programs and the collection and dissemination of data on outcomes for participants in these programs and many components in the TEN are consistent with NSC recommendations.

Upcoming regulations, expected this Fall, offer DOL an opportunity to expand on this guidance in a few important ways:

Enable a local focus: While portability is an important component of industry-recognized credentials, NSC encourages DOL to focus on the role local industry partnerships can play in certifying programs that meet local workforce need, particularly through the inclusion in the process of small and medium-sized businesses. The bipartisan PARTNERS Act would support industry partnerships between representatives from the workforce and education systems, multiple businesses and community organizations to expand access to work-based learning. NSC encourages DOL to emphasize the importance of engagement with both national companies and local businesses in establishing the context for “industry-recognized.”

Require disseminated, disaggregated data: NSC supports the alignment of data measures with WIOA performance metrics and the requirement that certifiers release the data on participation and retention for apprentices after completion of their program. We also encourage DOL to require certifiers to collect and make publicly available disaggregated data on these metrics.

Ensure meaningful equal employment opportunity in industry-recognized apprenticeship: DOL defines a certifier’s role in ensuring EEO as requiring sponsors to engage in outreach and recruitment strategies to “diverse” populations, adhering to existing EEO laws, and designating a person with responsibility for monitoring these efforts. These are all important components to ensuring equity in apprenticeship but are far from sufficient. Given task force recommendations that regulations governing EEO in registered programs do not apply to industry-recognized and the absence of explicit application to programs in the TEN, industry-recognized programs will likely not be required to meet the standards required by 29 C.F.R. 30. The rules in this section were recently updated to require more targeted analysis of potential workers in an apprenticeship program, with a focus on how programs are creating equal opportunity for women, people of color and people with disabilities. Integrated and intentional EEO requirements from the formation of the new industry-recognized apprenticeship system could help prevent the inequities that currently plague registered apprenticeship, where only seven percent of apprentices are women and where people of color earn significantly lower wages and complete programs and significantly lower rates than white men.

In addition to meaningful EEO requirements, NSC encourages DOL to require certifiers to ensure that apprentices have access to and success in apprenticeship programs by working with sponsors to provide workers access to supports like child care, transportation and pre-apprenticeship training. The bipartisan BUILDS Act would provide support for services like these that help a diverse set of workers succeed in apprenticeship.

Establish quality control mechanisms for certifiers: Upcoming regulations also offer DOL the opportunity to provide a detailed mechanism for enforcing certifier requirements. NSC encourages DOL to include enforcement and monitoring mechanisms that enable accurate and continuous evaluation of certifier efficacy in meeting the needs of both businesses and workers in upcoming draft regulations, expected this fall.

Next steps on Industry-Recognized Apprenticeships

Interested entities can submit to be qualified as a certifier “shortly”, which is likely to be after the release of draft regulations providing more insight on the rules governing industry recognized apprenticeships. DOL is currently accepting comments and statements of interest in becoming a certifier at

While DOL does not describe funding availability in the TEN for certifiers, earlier this month the agency announced a call for applications for $150 million in funds to support the expansion of industry recognized system. Partnerships between educational institutions and business associations or consortia of businesses are eligible for that funding, for which applicants will help businesses set up and run industry-recognized apprenticeship programs. Applications are due October 16th, 2018. DOL also released almost $1 million in funding available to community-based organizations to provide technical assistance to help expand women’s access to apprenticeship and non-traditional occupations through the latest iteration of the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO) grants. WANTO applications are due August 16th, 2018.

NSC will continue to work with our partners across the country and Apprenticeship Forward national partners to provide DOL and Congress with recommendations to implement high-quality apprenticeship programs that meet business demand and worker need.