Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association


ALERT: DOL Issues Proposed Rule Establishing Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs

Jul 03, 2019

SMACNA issued a call to action on July 2, 2019 for members to share their comments with the Department of Labor during the DOL 60-day comment period.  Please read the notice below and take action due to the significant impact this DOL Rule would have on our industry.

ACTION NEEDED: DOL Issues Proposed Rule Establishing Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs
On June 25, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released a proposed rule establishing an alternative to the registered apprenticeship programs: the industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAP). IRAPs represent a new pathway for the expansion of apprenticeships. 

The requirements for SMACNA’s and SMART’s Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAPs), and other RAP programs remain unchanged – AT LEAST FOR NOW. The Department of Labor has given all parties of interest just 60 days to convince DOL of the need to support the current registered apprenticeship standards for construction. We know the nonunion advocates of relaxed or unenforced training standards will comment in large numbers seeking to take down the DOL registered programs after decades of effort.

If we do not rise to this challenge to act on behalf of the RAP apprenticeship system we jointly fund and administer, the system could be changed and devalued after the final rules are published in 60 days. While IRAPs are a path to allow other industries outside of construction to progress toward a gold-standard apprenticeship program, if applied to the construction industry, the blow to registered programs would have a widespread and incalculable long-term impact, undercutting our contractors’ legitimate contracting advantages for prevailing wage and PLA projects, as well as end established wage / benefit differentials for public work.

After decades of praise and admiration, our registered apprenticeship programs need you to take action by engaging and sending your persuasive comments to the Secretary of Labor, federal officials and even political allies. Your comments need to underscore the importance of our programs and that they need to be upheld and protected by the DOL.

Allowing IRAPS in our industry would create confusion and reward those who have avoided the costs and effort needed to build and develop first rate apprentices and journey people across the construction industry. If this diluted and disjointed apprentice system were permitted in the construction industry, our first-rate programs could become synonymous with second-rate alternatives in the eyes of owners, general contractors and the government. 


Under the proposed rule, entities such as trade, industry, and employer groups or associations, could become a Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) that sets standards for training, structure, and curricula for IRAPs in their relevant industries. There would be multiple SREs, each with their own unique standards and each would be recognized through the U.S. Department of Labor. This "reform" would create massive confusion and represents a MAJOR change in the way apprenticeships are created and monitored for quality and employee value.

Currently there is a 60-day comment period open where the DOL will hear from the public and interested organizations.

SMACNA strongly urges members to submit their comments on this proposal directly to the DOL.

Every letter counts and will allow our collective voices to be stronger and heard loud and clear by the DOL.

Key Points to Make in Your Comments as Suggested by SMACNA:

Please be aware that the DOL now uses recognition text to weed-out form letters, we encourage you to make your comments your own using the below as a template, if you wish.

1) Ensure that the DOL maintains an exemption for the construction industry within the proposed rule. 

As currently written, the proposed rule does not permit approval of IRAPS in the construction industry. Given the extensive amounts of money and resources, our industry puts into its apprenticeship training and the benefit we receive from having skilled workers within our industry, having less rigorous apprenticeship programs competing in the same arena would not be beneficial for our members or the industry. 

While the DOL has granted this exception, it has done so only "at least initially," and there is some indication that the exemption may not even survive to be included in the final rule. We know there is going to be substantial effort by nonunion contractors to pressure DOL to allow IRAPs in the construction industry.

It is therefore imperative that the DOL hear from a significant number of SMACNA members about the need to make this exemption permanent. Construction represents 48% of all registered apprenticeship programs in the United States. High-quality training opportunities already exist for those interested in the trades; there is no need for IRAPS in this industry. Construction is not an industry where there is an insufficient number of training programs.

2) Reinforce the need to keep a clear distinction between registered apprentice programs and IRAPS.

The DOL has clarified that recognition as an IRAP does not confer categorical eligibility for government programs registered under the National Apprenticeship Act. That is a good thing. Identification of the apparent qualitative difference is something for which the DOL should be commended.

Registered Apprenticeship programs set themselves apart by going through a rigorous review process by the DOL or a state agency as well as subjecting the program to strict oversight. Registered programs have shown themselves committed to providing in-classroom training in addition to job-site training at a level not required of an IRAP. A bright line distinction is appropriate and warranted.

3) Point out the importance of having a comment period where third parties within the related industry can share comments before an SRE’s application is approved initially or upon subsequent re-approval.

The DOL envisions that the approval process will involve agency staff and contractors from the industry. However, a better approach would be to allow a public comment period on all applications. Allowing for broader input from a wide range of sources better ensures that the SRE applicant has the expertise necessary to ensure a high-quality training program, as well as outline a training curriculum and requirements that result in apprentices with sought-after competencies and industry-recognized credentials.

Workers, contractors, and those involved in current training programs in a given industry all have valuable insight into the type, length, and needed structure of quality apprentice programs. They should be allowed to weigh into the process at the point of an application for SRE designation. Protection of confidential business information can be addressed within the application process and so not all portions of the application are made public. 

4) Complaints regarding an SRE should not be restricted in cases where apprentices and other third parties are not immediately aware of violations. 

The proposed rules allow for certain third parties and apprentices to make a complaint about violations or deficiencies in a SRE’s operation. However, the complaining party has only 60 days from the date of the circumstances giving rise to the complaint to file with the DOL. Apprentices and other third parties that do not have regular access to records of an SRE and who may not learn of discrimination or other wrongdoing by an SRE or one of its IRAP, for some time, through no fault of their own.

Therefore, the DOL should allow a complaint to be filed up to 60 days from the date of first knowledge of a violation having occurred. This would better align with labor and employment laws and significantly improve the proposed rule. 

SMACNA would like each of its chapters and contractors to comment on the proposed rule before August 26, 2019 to preserve and herald the certified registered apprenticeship programs.