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JFF Calls for Delaying Proposed IRAP Accreditation Process

The DOL's IRAP accreditation process should be put on hold pending more specific guidelines.
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April 2, 2020

At a Glance

The DOL’s IRAP accreditation process should be put on hold pending more specific guidelines.

Recently, JFF submitted public comments to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed information collection request (ICR) “Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAP) Accrediting Entity Information.” While we applaud DOL’s efforts to propose flexible new approaches and strategies to apprenticeship, we wanted to share our comments and concerns that the proposed IRAP process seems duplicative of the existing RA process, raises several serious questions around conflict of interest and fee collection, and could create a wave of potentially inexperienced apprenticeship accreditors.

The ICR stems from President Trump’s June 2017 Executive Order 13801 (EO) intended to expand apprenticeships in America. The EO included, in part, a directive to the Secretary of Labor to consider granting third parties (trade and industry groups, companies, nonprofit organizations, unions, and joint labor-management organizations) the ability to recognize apprenticeship programs. The Secretary was also directed to establish guidelines or requirements that these qualified third parties (known as “accreditors”) must follow to ensure IRAPs meet quality standards.

Interim quality criteria was unveiled in DOL’s July 2018 Training and Employment Notice (TEN) No., 3-18. The document provides potential accreditors with a “general overview of the quality standards” for obtaining a favorable determination act as a program accreditor.

What is concerning is that the TEN is currently serving as DOL’s guidance on the process to approve IRAP accreditors. Yet, the document was intended as an interim document pending the promulgation of more specific guidelines. The TEN fails to provide sufficient details on many critical aspects for which accreditors will be responsible, such as: program monitoring responsibilities; monitoring by the Department; potential legal liabilities; their ability to collect fees; and a range of other important program requirements.

Given the importance of these issues for potential accreditors, our submitted comments suggested that the IRAP accreditor process should be considered for delay pending the promulgation of additional details and requirements that can be provided for prospective applicants.

Our specific comments focused on the following ten areas (read our full comments here):

  1. DOL Supporting Statement: The TEN 3-18 does not provide crucial details on many critical aspects of the program for which accreditors will be responsible.
  2. Is the information necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency: If accreditors must operate in a manner consistent with “DOL-identified hallmarks of high-quality apprenticeship programs,” then the proposed ICR process is duplicative of the existing Registered Apprenticeship (RA) program in the agency.
  3. Burden to accreditors: The proposed ICR underestimates the burden of the application process as it will require extensive preparation.
  4. Minimum requirements of On-the-Job Learning (OJL) and Related Technical Instruction (RTI): Unlike RA programs’ current requirements of 2,000 hours of OJL and 144 hours of RTI, there are no minimum standards outlined for IRAP programs, leaving the door open for a range of new, short-term programs that do not meet a minimum threshold for apprenticeship.
  5. Roles of accreditors and other partners: The specific role of accreditors is confusing and in need of clarification from DOL.
  6. Potential conflicts of interest: The TEN presents several instances that could result in significant conflict of interest among accreditors and the programs they are to approve and monitor.
  7. Apprenticeship program monitoring and oversight: There are few provisions describing how the monitoring of accreditors to ensure they are reasonably overseeing important program requirements (such as safety, EEO, credentialing, and program quality) or how DOL will respond to an accreditor who fails to fulfill, or violates, the requirements of being an accreditor.
  8. Accreditor monitoring and oversight: The TEN and related documents fail to outline a thorough process for monitoring and oversight of the accreditors and the accreditors’ responsibilities to monitor the programs they approve.
  9. Costs and fees: Under the existing RA system, there are no costs or fees to approve and register apprenticeship programs from DOL or State Apprenticeship Agencies. The TEN and accompanying documents are silent on whether an accreditor in the proposed IRAP program will be permitted to charge a fee for the service of accreditation.
  10. Welfare of apprentices: It is unclear from the TEN who is responsible for safeguarding and protecting the welfare of apprentices regarding safety on the job, wages, EEO, and other program quality issues.

In addition to our organization-specific comments, JFF has also joined with New America, Advance CE, National Association of Workforce Boards, National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and National Skills Coalition to submit joint comments.

We hope these comments will assist DOL in developing an IRAP process that will continue to strengthen the role of apprenticeship in the United States and connect even more Americans to good careers with good wages.