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ABC: Government-Registered Apprenticeship Programs Not Keeping Up With Construction Industry Needs

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22—At current rates of participation and completion, federal and state government-registered apprenticeship programs will fail to meet the construction industry’s short- and long-term skilled workforce needs, according to an Associated Builders and Contractors analysis of recently released U.S. Department of Labor data.

ABC estimates that the construction industry’s federal and state GRAPs had about 250,000 apprentice participants and yielded just 40,000 to 45,000 completers in fiscal year 2023.*

“It is no secret that America’s government-registered apprenticeship system isn’t keeping up with construction industry demand for skilled craft professionals, despite dedicated efforts by many stakeholders to create new programs, grow capacity and attract new apprentices,” said Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs. “Unfortunately, a controversial Biden administration proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Labor overhauling regulations for all government-registered apprenticeship program participants, providers and state regulators is likely to exacerbate the industry’s skilled labor shortage.”

On Jan. 31, ABC projected the construction industry workforce shortage of craft and noncraft labor to top half a million in 2024.

“The Biden administration’s proposal will discourage employer participation in the GRAP system by needlessly adding more uncertainty and costs in the form of new recordkeeping and reporting requirements, while also eliminating flexible competency-based approaches to workforce development that attract apprentices and employers into the system,” said Brubeck. “As currently written, the lengthy Biden proposal threatens to undermine significant investments recently made by taxpayers in infrastructure, clean energy and manufacturing projects procured by government and private developers.”

ABC plans to submit comments on the Biden DOL’s proposal by its March 18 deadline, and is soliciting feedback from ABC members and industry leaders to recommend policy solutions that would increase apprentice, employer and provider participation and capacity in the GRAP system.

“ABC champions government-registered apprenticeships as part of a diverse, all-of-the-above solution to workforce development needs that only together can solve the construction industry’s demand for skilled craft professionals, as well as engineers, estimators and project managers,” said Brubeck. “ABC’s 68 chapters are educating craft, safety and management professionals using innovative and flexible learning models like just-in-time task training, competency-based progression and work-based learning, in addition to more than 450 federal and state GRAPs in more than 20 different occupations across America, in order to develop a safe, skilled and productive workforce. ABC members invested an estimated $1.5 billion in construction industry workforce development to upskill 1.3 million course attendees in 2022, including hundreds of GRAPs administered independently by ABC member companies.”

ABC has expressed concerns with new Biden administration policies requiring the use of apprentices on federally assisted electric vehicle charging stations and clean energy construction projects procured by private developers. For example, the Inflation Reduction Act provides $270 billion in tax credits to private developers of clean energy construction projects, but in order to unlock the full 30% value of tax credits, they are required to ensure that 15% of all construction labor hours on an eligible project are performed by government-registered apprentices.

Clean energy stakeholders and builders are concerned these requirements will be difficult to meet because of a lack of GRAPs in certain marketplaces and difficulties getting new GRAPs approved in certain states to expand capacity and increase apprenticeship enrollment. A lack of apprentices and GRAPs will ultimately increase costs and delay the construction of new projects, undermining the Biden administration’s clean energy agenda.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the construction industry had 8.137 million craft and noncraft employees as of January 2024, and experienced an unemployment rate between 3.5% and 4.8% during peak construction months in 2023.

According to DOL apprenticeship data, apprentices enrolled in construction industry GRAPs comprise 32.7% of the 646,406 apprentices enrolled in GRAPs across all industries.

Visit abc.org/workforce to learn how ABC is building the people who build America and abc.org/grapmap to find an ABC GRAP.

*Note that five states did not report complete GRAP data to the DOL, so ABC’s figure incorporates rough estimates to account for missing data in order to paint a more complete picture.

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