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Biden's DEI mandates on employers fail American workers

OpinionBiden's DEI mandates on employers fail American workers

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Andre Jones, a recent college grad, had been job hunting for months until he enrolled in an IT apprenticeship program that led to full certification and a thriving career. George Forest, an Army veteran, completed a diesel technician apprenticeship program that helped him transition from the military to civilian life. Allison Van Houten switched careers entirely because of an apprenticeship, leaving her job as a speech therapist to become a woodwork manufacturing specialist.    

These are just a few of the dozens of apprenticeship success stories touted on the federal Apprenticeship USA website. Unfortunately, a new proposal by the Biden administration threatens to burden apprenticeship programs with red tape, extra costs, and more bureaucracy.  

The Department of Labor quietly released a nearly 800-page proposal to regulate apprenticeships right before Christmas. Between the holidays and the busy start to the year, this proposal went largely overlooked by the public, though businesses, trade groups, state agencies and others have started to sound the alarm.  

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All signs indicate that the administration wants to finalize this rule quickly, despite its complexity — jeopardizing the success of apprenticeship programs and even their viability. Most tellingly, the labor secretaries and workforce development officers from Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Virginia banded together to outline their concern that this rule would stifle apprenticeship growth in their own states. 

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Apprenticeships are a great way for young workers to learn skills. But the Biden administration wants to make them too expensive for employers. (iStock)

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

Unfortunately, the Biden administration’s new proposal risks relegating apprenticeships to a last-resort option for businesses. Many pieces of the proposed rule are concerning, but three in particular represent some of the most problematic changes.   

First, the proposed rule removes flexibility for businesses that run apprenticeship programs and imposes a one-size-fits-all structure. Today, businesses have three options when evaluating apprentices’ successful completion of their programs: a time-based approach, which requires the apprentice to complete a certain number of hours of training; a competency-based approach, which requires the apprentice to achieve certain skills; or a combination of the two.  

This new rule removes the competency-based approach entirely and instead requires all apprentices to complete a minimum of 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of classroom instruction. This not only increases costs for businesses that can train apprentices in less time but also demoralizes talented workers who can achieve competency quickly.  

Second, the rule requires that businesses provide apprentices with the same benefits as full-time employees, including paid leave, health care, retirement benefits and more. Essentially, businesses must provide the same benefits to apprentices as full-time employees without receiving the same caliber of work a full-time employee provides.  

An apprenticeship is fundamentally a training program that brings new workers to the same skill level as full-time employees over time. As an apprentice gains more skills and contributes more to the company, his or her benefits should increase in tandem — providing benefits before the skills have been attained is backward.  

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

For small and medium-sized businesses, these extra requirements essentially make apprentices cost-prohibitive. Apprenticeship programs should focus on exactly one thing: training workers to earn the skills they need to find a job and flourish in their careers. 

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

Apprenticeships have been an underutilized tool in America for decades, but in the last several years, the tide has been turning. The number of active apprentices in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2014, and many states, including Iowa, South Dakota and Florida, have dedicated significant state funding to helping businesses start their own programs.  

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If the Biden administration gets its way, this progress will grind to a halt. Program costs will be too high for businesses to want to start them, states will pursue other workforce development opportunities with less red tape, and workers will find jobs that do not require them to jump through so many hoops.  

The Biden administration must rescind this disastrous proposed rule and instead implement policies that encourage more workers and businesses to pursue apprenticeships. Isn’t this just common sense?  

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