WASHINGTON, June 30—It would take 14 years for federal and state government-registered apprenticeship programs to educate the 650,000 workers the construction industry needs to hire just in 2022, according to an Associated Builders and Contractors analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data from 2021. DOL data indicate that the construction industry’s federal government-registered apprenticeship system produced just 24,822 completers of its four-to-five-year apprenticeship programs, and in addition, construction industry apprenticeship programs registered with state governments produced an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 completers in FY 2021.

“Clearly, the government-registered apprenticeship system is not meeting the industry’s need for skilled labor and cannot be the only solution supported by government to meet industry demands and build a diverse workforce,” said Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs. “This is why lawmakers should support inclusive, all-of-the-above solutions to workforce development as part of their efforts to attract and retain a diverse construction industry workforce, especially during these economically challenging times.

“The construction industry currently faces supply chain disruptions, unprecedented materials prices that are 44% higher than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic and declining investment in nonresidential structures,” said Brubeck. “Because 87.4% of the construction industry does not belong to a union, government-registered apprenticeship program participation requirements for taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects are not a holistic solution to the skilled labor shortage, which is exacerbating historic levels of inflation in the construction industry and undermining significant taxpayer investments in infrastructure.

“Government-registered apprenticeship programs are only a key part of an all-of-the-above solution to workforce development,” 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 300 federal and state GRAPs across 20 different occupations in order to develop a safe, skilled and productive workforce. In addition, ABC member companies administer hundreds of GRAPs independent of ABC’s network and invested an estimated $1.6 billion in construction workforce development in 2021.”  

Background:

The Biden administration and certain federal and state lawmakers push misguided solutions to the construction industry’s skilled labor shortage by promoting policies that steer workforce development funding only to government-registered apprenticeship programs and require contractors to participate in GRAPs as a condition of winning taxpayer-funded construction projects. Some of these policies go as far as requiring GRAPs to be affiliated with unions in order to access government funding and qualify firms to participate in the procurement process.

Unfortunately, these policies could prove detrimental in the short and long term for the construction industry by limiting workforce development, damaging the GRAP system and denying high-paying career opportunities in the construction industry to hardworking Americans.

Certain lawmakers only want to support GRAPs because they disproportionately favor unionized contractors and union labor. Plus, union lobbyists want GRAPs to be the only workforce development solution supported by government because it can serve as a barrier to fair and open competition.

A 2015 report issued by construction unions claims that, “among [government-registered program] construction apprentices, 74% are trained in the unionized construction sector known as the joint apprenticeship training committee system."

The DOL does not provide to the public aggregate data on union vs. nonunion apprentices enrolled in construction industry GRAPs in an annual report.

If accurate, this report’s data mean that roughly a quarter of all registered apprentices are enrolled in nonunion government-registered apprenticeship programs.

In consort with controversial Biden administration policies mandating anti-competitive and inflationary union-only project labor agreements on federal and federally assisted infrastructure projects, the White House-led push for GRAPs will continue to exacerbate the construction industry’s skilled labor shortage.

ABC supports the Training America’s Workforce Act, which would allow for the federal recognition of industry and market-driven apprenticeship programs in the United States through third-party entities, approved by the DOL, to recognize and perform oversight of apprenticeship programs developed by the private sector.

Additionally, ABC supports the Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act, which would expand 529 plans for all recognized postsecondary credentials as defined by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the Jumpstarting Our Businesses by Supporting Students Act, which would expand Pell Grant eligibility to cover high-quality and rigorous short-term job training programs.

Visit workforce.abc.org to learn how ABC is building the people who build America.