Construction industry groups welcomed President Trump’s new directive aimed at expanding the rolls of apprenticeship programs and reducing the federal role in determining those programs’ requirements. But some officials are uncertain about how much specific impact—if any—Trump’s action will have on construction’s extensive, long-established apprenticeship programs.

The executive order, which Trump signed on June 15, calls on the Dept. of Labor to consider drafting regulations to let third parties, such as companies, trade associations and labor unions, develop their own guidelines for apprenticeship plans in order to receive a registered-apprenticeship designation. DOL then would review those guidelines.

The Trump order also allows for “expedited and streamlined registration” of such plans under a DOL-administered apprenticeship program

Trump aims to give a boost to programs that let apprentices “earn while they learn.” He said, “We will be removing federal restrictions that have prevented many different industries from creating apprenticeship programs. We have regulations on top of regulations.”

The plan would mark a change from the status quo. A senior White House official told reporters on June 15 that DOL “has been very prescriptive and very restrictive” in how it approaches apprenticeship programs.

North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), said in a statement issued the day before Trump signed the executive order, or EO, that it welcomed the administration’s effort to increase apprenticeship education.

The Associated Builders and Contractors also praised the announcement. ABC President and CEO Mike Bellaman said in a statement, “With our industry in need of half a million workers today and even more in the future, we need to expand upon current apprenticeship methods that have left us with a worker shortage and embrace an all-of-the-above training approach to meet the needs of a 21st century workforce.”

Apprenticeships have long been important in the construction industry. The Labor Dept. says that construction has by far the largest number of active apprentices among U.S. industries, with 144,583 in 2016, or 20% of the national total.

Varying construction views

Views vary, however about how much the executive order will affect the construction industry.

A NABTU spokesman said via email, “Our understanding is construction is exempt from the EO.”

But Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, said in an emailed comment, “The bottom line is we have no idea whether construction is exempted from the apprenticeship executive order.  We need to wait until we see proposed regulations that come from the order.” It will take weeks, or even months, for DOL to release proposed rules to implement the directive.

Turmail added, “Our hope and expectation is that the sector will be able to benefit from the executive order, at a minimum, in the many parts of the country where apprenticeship programs are not currently available in construction.”

The term “construction” doesn’t appear in the directive, though it does call on the Commerce and Labor secretaries to “promote apprenticeships to business leaders across critical industry sectors,” including infrastructure.

The directive says that, as DOL considers writing implementing regulations, among the factors it should consider is the possibility of denying “expedited and streamlined any sector in which Dept. of Labor registered apprenticeship programs are already effective and substantially widespread....”

Given the large number of construction apprentices, and programs' long track record, the industry might fit that definition.

Marco Giamberardino, National Electrical Contractors Association executive director for government affairs, says, “We are encouraged by the spirit of the executive order and believe that our programs would certainly qualify for any sort of exemption.”

Giamberardino adds, “We look forward to being part of the rulemaking process and future discussions with the departments of labor, education and commerce in demonstrating the value and the expertise that our programs do provide in building the next generation of construction apprentices.”

Stan Kolbe, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association director of legislative affairs, said he "wants to see the fine print in any regulations," but notes that "the privately funded joint labor-management programs its members participate in are already certified by DOL."

Kolbe said in emailed comments, "SMACNA readily agrees there is a skilled-worker shortage, but one of the prime reasons is because too few were willing to invest in the kind of training needed to create a skilled workforce."

He added, "Not all industries are the same, but SMACNA would not support self-certified apprenticeship programs to generate the high-skilled workforce needed in today’s highly technical sector of the construction industry."

NABTU says that 75% of U.S. construction apprentices go through joint training programs that the building trades operate with contractors. The programs have agreements and relationships with colleges and universities.

ABC says its local chapters and affiliated training centers provide more than 800 apprenticeship, craft, safety and management training programs, including apprencticeship programs approved by DOL.

DOL didn’t respond to ENR’s request for further information about the executive order.

Revamping training-program lineup

A senior White House official says that the administration also proposes to double the funding for DOL's “Apprenticeship USA” program, to about $200 million a year.

Another provision of the EO aims to revamp the lineup of federally funded workforce-development and training programs, which it states “are not effectively serving American workers.” It says programs that don’t measure up should be “improved or eliminated.”

The White House official says there now are 43 separate federal workforce-training programs housed within 13 agencies whose annual funding totals $16.8 billion.

Story changed 6/20 to correct name of North America's Building Trades Unions and add comments from SMACNA