President Joe Biden is taking several steps to end an apprenticeship system launched under the Trump administration that shifted oversight of some programs from the federal government to colleges, trade groups and employers.
In early 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor established Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs, which allowed the agency to delegate some of its apprenticeship oversight to other entities, which it called Standards Recognition Entities.
Biden directed the Labor Department to pause approval for new SREs, end new funding for those that already exist and consider killing IRAPS altogether. The new administration called the program “duplicative.”
IRAPs stem from a 2017 executive order from former President Donald Trump that directed the Labor Department to create a new system that would make it easier for third parties to develop apprenticeships. Biden repealed the executive order Wednesday.
When the Labor Department launched the system, it billed IRAPs as a way to expand apprenticeships in healthcare, telecommunications and cybersecurity fields. It garnered support from Republicans and some employers but was sharply criticized by Democrats, who feared IRAPs would waste taxpayer money on an unproven system.
IRAPs added to, rather than replaced, the existing registered apprenticeships system, in which the Labor Department and state apprenticeship agencies ensure apprenticeships meet quality standards.
The Labor Department announced in October that Raytheon Technologies, a defense contractor, would offer the first IRAP.
Some policy experts and lawmakers said the Labor Department should have bolstered the existing system and argued that the new model didn’t have enough safeguards. In a White House news release on Wednesday, the Biden administration echoed those concerns, saying IRAPs lack standards that let “employers know they are hiring a worker with high-quality training.”
Biden also declared support for the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, a bipartisan bill that would use $3.5 billion over five years to expand the older apprenticeship system. Lawmakers expect the proposed legislation would create nearly 1 million new apprenticeships. It would also implement an agreement between the Education and Labor departments to create and expand youth apprenticeships, college consortia and data sharing agreements.
Several higher education and labor groups have backed the bill, including the American Association of Community Colleges, which represents some 1,200 two-year schools.