The AGC’s Stephen E. Sandherr is normally careful to use tactful language when he speaks on the record and he has in the past looked for the silver lining in every Trump Administration initiative, but the DOL’s most recent snub of the construction industry was too much.
“At a time when the vast majority of construction firms report having a hard time finding qualified workers to hire, it is deeply troubling that the Trump administration has opted to not include the sector in its new apprenticeship proposal,” Sandherr said in the AGC’s June 24 statement.
He was referring to an apprenticeship initiative that began soon after Trump took office in 2017. After two years of development, the revised Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Program (IRAP) was revealed June 24. The process leading to the new IRAP involves prioritizing certain sectors of the workforce, describing them as “high-quality” jobs.
At stake is awards totaling $183.8 million to support the development and expansion of apprenticeships for educational institutions and partnering with companies that provide a matching fund component. The DOL also makes available $100 million for efforts to expand apprenticeships and close the skills gap.
The program as unveiled, however, provided nothing for the expansion of construction industry trades.
“Instead of opening new routes for many thousands of Americans to embark on high-paying construction careers, the administration has instead opted to exclude one of the largest single sectors of the economy from what is supposed to be their signature workforce initiative,” Sandherr said.
According to the DOL, the IRAP instead focuses resources in the information technology, advanced manufacturing and healthcare sectors; 23 academic institutions and consortia were selected for grants.
In Texas, the funding will go to two institutions and their partners. One recipient is the Dallas County Community College District with the American Hospital Association and nine healthcare entities. The other is the San Jacinto Community College District and three college districts with IBM, Lockheed Martin, Cerner Corporation, Cisco Systems and Rackspace.
One side note: As part of the program’s implementation process, the DOL was to issue on June 25 a revised “Training and Employment Notice that will subsequently be accompanied by an application for entities seeking to recognize IRAPs. But as of July 1, 11:30 a.m. CDT, the Training and Employment Notice website was unavailable; this is the message to that link:
Sandherr acknowledged that there are other paths into the industry, however, he said, “it remains too difficult for many firms and their partners to establish apprenticeship programs for construction workers. Barriers for apprenticeship programs often include the excessive costs incurred during the rigid and inflexible registration process.
“Had construction been included in this initiative, many more Americans would have had the option to master construction crafts via the proven apprenticeship model. Instead, the administration is sending a clear message that contractors need not apply.
“It is troubling that the administration says that the construction industry would not ‘initially‘ be eligible for consideration without providing any compelling rationale as to why the industry has been excluded. Furthermore, there is no enumeration of the factors that would be considered to permit construction training programs to be included in the apprenticeship expansion program in the future.”
As Sandherr points out, it is impossible to know how to respond when the DOL doesn’t explain what criteria the construction industry should present in order to be considered. The DOL’s preferences seem to imply that the construction industry is somehow too static and doesn’t provide the kind of technological progress that qualifies as a high-quality, competitive job of the future.
The construction industry is not insulated, however, from change. The chronic labor shortage has forced the industry to seek and adopt technological advances to compensate. Market demands for energy efficiency and sustainable buildings provides a constant incentive for refining building methods.
The DOL snub also comes at a time when the industry is desperate to see Congress reach a solution on immigration. Barely three weeks before Sandherr’s statement on the IRAP rollout, he was speaking in support of the U.S. House of Representatives bill to restore by law the Dream Act (American Dream and Promise Act of 2019), which offers conditional green cards and work authorization extensions to immigrants registered as Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Children Arrivals.
Of course, as with practically every bill passed this session in the Democrat Party-controlled House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not allowing a vote in the Senate.
Well aware of this, Sandherr nevertheless said, “We urge Senators to also act to protect workers in the country under the TPS and Dreamers programs either in a stand-alone measure or as part of broader, and much-needed, reforms to our immigration system. Failure to act will remove tens of thousands of men and women from the domestic construction workforce at a time when a vast majority of contractors report difficulty finding qualified workers to hire.”
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.