Sheet metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

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New apprenticeship order: Will it affect building trades?

Aug 11, 2017

President Trump’s executive order, "Apprenticeship and Workforce of Tomorrow," signed June 15, will make it easier for businesses—union and non-union—to run apprenticeship programs. But, without a construction industry exception, it could undermine the integrity of union construction apprenticeship programs.

It is designed, the White house said, to expand apprenticeships to train people for millions of unfilled jobs. However, unions and those in the unionized construction industry worry that this executive order will make it easier for non-union competition to establish low-cost apprenticeship programs without having any meaningful training component. 

The executive order directs the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to draft new rules allowing companies, industry groups, and unions to create and certify their own programs, which would then be approved by the Labor Department. 

Six million vacant jobs need filling

An administration official said the “streamlined” structure would foster more “flexible” programs that fit the needs of businesses. The White House estimates there are six million vacant jobs that companies cannot fill due to a lack of skilled workers. 

The order doubles funding for apprenticeship grants to $200 million by pulling money allotted for existing job-training programs. The official said new Labor Department grants could be used to grow apprenticeship programs in community colleges and high schools and expand them to industries beyond the trades, such as agriculture and engineering. 

Will DOL implement a construction industry exception?

Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta left the door open as to whether regulations implementing this executive order would include a construction industry exemption.

SMACNA’s Labor Relations Services Department will review the proposed rules implementing this executive order when they come out, probably later this year. At that time, SMACNA will provide guidance on how local areas can help protect the integrity of construction industry apprenticeship programs.