President Joe Biden’s DEI Employer Mandates Fail American Workers

Numerous apprenticeship success stories are touted on the federal Apprenticeship USA website. Unfortunately, a new proposal by the Biden administration threatens to weigh down apprenticeship programs with extra costs, more bureaucracy, and red tape. 

The Department of Labor silently released an almost 800-page proposal to regulate apprenticeships before Christmas. Between the busy start of the year and the holidays, the public mainly overlooked this proposal, but trade groups, businesses, state agencies, and others have begun to sound the alarm.

Despite its complexity, all signs point to the administration wanting to finalize this rule rapidly, jeopardizing the apprenticeship programs’ success and viability. Tellingly, the workforce development officers and labor secretaries from Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Iowa, South Dakota, and Oklahoma banded together to outline their concern that this rule would stifle apprenticeship growth in their states.

Apprenticeships can be an exceptional way to connect workers with in-demand jobs and fill businesses’ workforce needs. They allow workers to get training and on-the-job experience while getting paid instead of spending years in school, foregoing a paycheck, or even taking debt to find a job. For businesses, they generate a pipeline with steady talent who know the ropes of their industries inside and out.

Unfortunately, the new proposal from the Biden administration risks relegating apprenticeships to businesses’ last-resort option. Several pieces of the proposed rule are concerning. However, three expressly represent some of the most concerning changes. 

The proposed rule removes business flexibility that runs apprenticeship programs and imposes a one-size-fits-all structure. Businesses today have three options when they evaluate the successful completion of apprenticeship programs: a competency-based approach, a time-based approach — which requires the apprentice to complete their programs, and a competency-based approach, which requires the apprentice to gain specific skills or a combo of the two.

The new rule removes a competency-based approach and instead requires that all apprentices finish a minimum of 2,000 hours of on-the-job training along with 144 hours of classroom instruction. This not only costs businesses that can train apprentices more quickly but also discourages talented workers who can quickly achieve competency.

Next, the rule requires businesses to provide apprentices with the same benefits as full-time employees, including health care, retirement benefits, paid leave, and more. Businesses must essentially offer the same benefits to apprentices as full-time employees without receiving the same level of work provided by full-time employees.

Fundamentally, an apprenticeship is a training program that, over time, brings new workers to the same skill level as full-time employees. 

While employees contribute more to the company and gain more skills, their benefits should increase simultaneously — providing benefits before skills are even attained seems backward.

Lastly, the rule contains several provisions irrelevant to training skilled workers. There are diversity, equity and inclusion mandates throughout the rule for both states and businesses that add administrative burdens and costs to all apprenticeship programs.

These additional requirements essentially make apprenticeships prohibitive for medium—and small-sized businesses. Apprenticeship programs should only focus on one thing: training workers to earn the skills they require to find a job and flourish in their careers.

In America, apprenticeships have been underutilized for several decades. However, in the last several years, the tide has been changing. Active apprenticeship numbers in the United States have more than doubled since 2014. Many states, including Florida, Iowa, and South Dakota, have dedicated serious state funding to assist businesses in starting their programs.

If the Biden administration gets its way, the progress will grind to a screeching halt. Costs of programs will be too pricey for businesses to want to begin them, states will pursue other opportunities for workplace development with less red tape, and workers will locate jobs that don’t require them to jump through numerous hoops.

The administration must rescind this proposed rule and implement policies encouraging more businesses and workers to pursue apprenticeships — common sense.