The labor shortage remains one of the most challenging problems facing construction companies. It would seem that demand for roads, bridges, and housing far outweighs available manpower. But the problem isn’t just manpower; the problem is skill. As the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) puts it, “Increasing talent shortages and skill gaps are slowing the industry’s ability to expand and prosper.”
In order to combat widespread labor shortages, the DOL certifies apprentice programs sponsored by employers who take the initiative. In this article, a Fort Lauderdale construction lawyer discusses the importance of these apprenticeship programs and how they may be subject to a new ruling by the DOL. If your company has been struggling to fill skilled positions, sponsoring an apprenticeship program may be right for you.
The “Other Four-Year Degree”
According to the DOL, the apprenticeship model is “a national system of industry-driven on-the-job training delivered through partnerships with companies like yours. With a network of over 150,000 employers in more than 1,000 occupations, apprenticeship has trained millions of apprentices for over 75 years.” Essentially, an apprenticeship is an employer-driven model in which new hires or current workers can earn money while learning a trade and advancing their careers. In addition to state tax credits, this program can help you:
- Develop a highly skilled and diverse workforce
- Improve your bottom line
- Create flexible and standardized training
- Reduce turnover
As for the apprentices themselves, the benefits can hardly be put into words. Commonly referred to as the “other four-year degree,” an apprenticeship affords young men and women the opportunity to pursue a fulfilling career without the burden of student loans that accompany higher education. According to the DOL, the average starting wage is $15.00 per hour, and that only increases as the apprentice becomes increasingly skilled and familiar with their position. Not only will these young workers be paid for their contributions, but they’ll also graduate with a nationally recognized credential accepted by employers all across the United States. Young workers can even earn college credits during their apprenticeship.
The DOL’s Proposed Apprenticeship Rule
As Engineering News-Record reports, “The Dept. of Labor’s inbox has been swamped by more than 300,000 comments—the vast majority from construction workers, according to a top union official—weighing in on the department’s proposal to revamp the federal program for apprenticeships.” These comments largely have to deal with a controversial provision that would see the construction industry exempt from Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs) overseen by Standards Recognition Entities (SREs). While overseen by the DOL, SREs (schools, states, unions, etc.) would set the standards for IRAP training and curricula. The reason for exemption is that the construction industry already has effective apprenticeship programs in place.
Those in favor of the exemption agree with the DOL’s assertion that the current model is effective and would like the exemption to be made permanent. They claim there is no guarantee that this new model will be an improvement or that it will provide apprentices with valuable training. Those against the exemption claim that the DOL’s apprenticeship program is simply not producing enough skilled workers to meet demand. By making an exception for the construction industry, detractors claim that the DOL is, in fact, prolonging the skilled labor shortage and limiting learning opportunities. If you like many of our readers are eagerly waiting to hear from the DOL’s final ruling, stay tuned as we continue to cover this topic. Consult a construction lobbyist the next time a pressing issue relates to you and your construction business.
When the Dust Settles
Regardless of the DOL’s final ruling regarding the exemption, apprenticeships remain a reliable way for construction companies to train both new and current employees. If you are interested in sponsoring an apprenticeship program, be sure to read through the Apprenticeship Toolkit provided by the DOL. However, there are additional concerns that you should keep top of mind. While most programs require individuals to be 18 years of age, individuals 16 years of age can be eligible. As we’ve covered previously, there are important considerations to take into account when minors are present on your jobsite, including the number of hours they work, types of jobs they can perform, and tools and vehicles they can operate. For any questions regarding work restrictions for minors, consult one of our Fort Lauderdale construction lawyers.
Safety must still be your number one priority with apprentices over the age of 18. As bright and eager as these young men and women may be, they are still unfamiliar with the hazards often present on the construction site. It will be up to you to ensure their safety no matter the job they are training for. For assistance fostering a hazard-free work environment that will benefit your workers both new and experienced, consult the team of Fort Lauderdale construction attorneys from Cotney Construction Law.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.