Update on DOL Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion
Dec 20, 2017
By Michael Copp, PHCC Executive Vice President
The Department of Labor (DOL) Task Force established by President Trump’s Executive Order Expanding Apprenticeships in America held a formative meeting with more meetings expected early in 2018. The mission of the task force is to identify strategies and proposals to promote apprenticeships, especially in sectors where apprenticeship programs are insufficient.
The Executive Order recognizes apprentice programs that are in place, performing well, and placing individuals in successful careers. The PHCC Educational Foundation apprenticeship program, recognized by the DOL, is one example of that type of in-place program that is based on a four-year curriculum with required on-the-job training, typically leading to licensure in jurisdictions where required. However, the DOL task force has agreed in principle that the typical DOL-registered/approved apprenticeship program is not keeping up with labor demands.
Initial impressions are that the DOL Task Force is looking at World Class Organizations (and specifically their training programs) to better understand and ultimately recommend the establishment of competency-based DOL-approved programs that would be available in addition to existing traditional apprenticeship programs. The competency-based model would teach task-oriented competencies that lead to portable credentials. A candidate could take accelerated training on tasks, achieve a credential, and work independently under that credential. The skills training could be stackable in that individuals could add competencies over time and expand their work expertise. Additionally, there is interest in making the credentials portable such that there would be recognition across jurisdictional lines. Finally, the DOL Task Force intends for the entire competency-based training regimen, once completed, to meet the requirements of existing apprenticeship programs in those states that require a license to practice.
It’s important that we remember the transcendental value of the apprenticeship system, which was and remains a way to hand down the “craft” and “science” from one generation to the next for the sake of preserving the professionalism of an industry. While there is a desire to ensure that we have “skilled labor” for our industry, it is even more important that we have professional and licensed master tradespeople who are not merely competent in installing and servicing a limited number of products and systems, but are also knowledgeable about why they do what they do and hence, can help their clients solve problems. In our collective rush to increase the skilled labor pool, the DOL task force cannot lose sight of the potential collapse of the traditional apprenticeship system because of commoditized competencies that may not actually be interchangeable between employers (companies do things differently). We will end up with “Jacks and Jills of all trades and experts in none” who may elect to satisfy only those competencies necessary to become immediately employable and hence, may never complete an apprenticeship and not meet licensing requirements in many states.
Much of the DOL competency program is yet to be determined. The establishment of the actual competencies needs to be considered as well as the required training. Creation of the training content and expert evaluation for DOL approval would be required. How the credentialing process would work and who would do the credentialing is a question as well. Lastly, the interaction of these programs with existing licensing programs would have to be reconciled. As the work of the DOL task force proceeds, many of these questions need answers. For example, standards must be in place to ensure that competent plumbing and HVAC professionals are maintaining the integrity of potable water systems, sanitary drainage systems and heating and air conditioning systems that are protecting the health and safety of our nation and preserving the environment.
As the task force deliberations continue, we will monitor the progress and provide updates to PHCC members. If you have thoughts you would like considered, please email Government@naphcc.org.