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Thune, Scott Introduce Legislation to Combat Workforce Challenges

Senators’ bill would help ensure that apprenticeship programs are more responsive to private sector workforce needs

March 7, 2022

U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) today introduced the Training America’s Workforce Act, which would direct the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to revive industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) that wereformalized by the Trump administration. Specifically, it would reinstate the rule that allowed third-party, DOL-approved entities, like qualifying trade associations or institutions of higher education, to recognize and perform oversight over apprenticeship programs developed by the private sector and other organizations. This legislation would make apprenticeship programs more responsive to industry workforce needs, and it would help individuals obtain industry-specific skills through on-the-job learning and classroom instruction, as well as an industry-recognized credential upon completion of the program.

“Workforce shortages, especially in skills-based industries, is an issue I continue to hear about from South Dakota businesses all across the state,” said Thune. “The best solutions to this problem lie within the private sector, but there are steps that Congress can take to help ensure individuals across South Dakota have the skills they need to thrive in our economy. This legislation would reinstate IRAPs as a way to help address these ongoing workforce challenges in South Dakota and throughout the country.”

“At a time when so many Americans have stopped looking for work, thousands of small business owners are struggling to find workers for millions of open jobs,” said Scott. “Rather than rely on heavy-handed, government-run programs, this bill will help create industry-led workforce development programs to get qualified workers into well-paying jobs.”

“The Training America’s Workforce Act will support the industry-recognized, market-driven apprenticeship programs that many ABC chapters and members use to provide their workers with the skills they need for a successful career,” said Kristen Swearingen, Associated Builders and Contractors vice president of legislative and political affairs. “At a critical time when the construction industry faces an estimated workforce shortage of 650,000 workers in 2022, we know that the flexibility and modern approach that these programs offer can provide new opportunities for all of America’s workers. ABC appreciates Senator Thune and Scott’s efforts to better serve construction professionals throughout the country.”  

“With chronic labor shortages contributing to rising construction costs, NAHB commends Sens. Thune and Scott for introducing the Training America’s Workforce Act,” said Jerry Konter, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders. “The legislation will help ease the housing affordability crisis by allowing the home building industry to expand its workforce training reach through industry-recognized apprenticeship programs, or IRAPs. By supplementing existing training options with IRAPs, this bill will provide the education and training needed to promote and advance careers in residential construction.” 

“As the first responders for their community's workforce needs, America's technical community colleges need every possible tool to help address today's workforce shortage and skills gap,” said Mike Cartney, president of Lake Area Technical College. “IRAPs uniquely provide a pathway to gaining those high-demand skills on the job, making the employee available for work on day one, and I appreciate Senators Thune and Scott for introducing this legislation.”

During the Trump administration, IRAPs served as a necessary alternative to registered apprenticeships, which are required to be recognized directly by DOL or state apprenticeship agencies and are oftentimes accompanied by rigid and onerous requirements. Shortly after President Biden took office, he effectively ended this new apprenticeship effort by prohibiting the recognition of any new IRAPs. On November 15, 2021, President Biden promulgated a rule that would formally rescind the Trump-era rule. The public comment period concluded on January 14, 2022, and a final rule to rescind IRAPs has yet to be published.