WASHINGTON – Government rules for federally registered apprenticeship programs are too restrictive, forcing the manufacturing, construction and health care industries to create their own programs, industry leaders told a Senate committee Thursday.
“We have an apprenticeship system burdened by rules and restrictions,” said Montez King, executive director at The National Institute for Metalworking Skills during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing. “The system is not able to easily adapt to changes in industry.”
Mike Holland of the Associated Builders and Contracts, which represents the construction industry, called the Labor Department’s apprenticeship programs “rigid.”
It is “one of the reasons why most of the construction industry chooses to train their workforce through the industry-recognized model,” Holland said.
The federal government established its registered apprenticeship program through the National Apprenticeship Act of 1937.
The federal program gives a stamp of approval on the process. Apprentices receive a credential when they graduate from the program that is nationally recognized and they can show to different employers. Companies get the assurance that the workers are qualified.
That program was designed to focus on the health and safety of apprentices, but industry leaders say it has not kept up with changes in the economy.
Programs designed by the companies in an industry offer greater flexibility and provide workers with training in a “real manufacturing environment,” King said.
In 2017, the U.S. had more than 500,000 people in federally-registered apprenticeship programs, according to Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican and chairman of the committee.
Apprenticeships are widely viewed as a way for businesses to train skilled workers in an environment where there increasingly is a workforce shortage. Recent reports from the Department of Labor have shown there are more job openings than there are available workers.
“Employers can trust that apprentices demonstrated, in a real-world environment, the skills to perform the job,” said Sandi Vito, who represents health care workers. The use of registered apprenticeships in healthcare has increased significantly over the past two years, Vito said.
Washington state Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the committee, said businesses are still struggling to find workers, and workers are struggling to find good-paying jobs.
Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order establishing the President’s Council for the American Worker. Murray criticized the order, saying it would “weaken worker protections” and that the president was only interested in “getting credit.”
Earlier this month, House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke about the gap in skilled workers during a speech to the Economic Club of Washington.
“We need to make two-year school cool again,” Ryan said. “You shouldn’t have to pile up mountains of debt for college just to get the skills you need for a career.”