In December, the department issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update the rules for the National Apprenticeship System. The voluntary, industry-driven training program was created in the 1930s to promote the establishment of registered apprenticeship programs and provide training and welfare standards for apprentices. More than 460,000 apprentices participate in 28,000 programs nationally. Registered programs are eligible for federal and state contracts, grants, and other assistance.
One proposed change would expand the number of pathways to apprenticeship completion and certification. Under the current model, apprentices must complete a specific number of on-the-job and technical instruction hours. Under the proposed rule change, instruction hours would be supplemented by a competency-based approach, in which candidates would be required to demonstrate competency in defined subject areas without specific time requirements; and a hybrid model combining the time and competencybased approaches.
The rule change is welcomed by Stephen Mandes, executive director of the National Institute for Metalworking Skills in Fairfax, Virginia, which has developed a competency-based model in response to the needs of the precision manufacturing industry. Mandes notes that many of his member organizations had begun to move away from apprenticeship programs earlier this decade because the time-based approach was not producing results.
"The competency-based approach provides greater certainty to employers and employees alike that employees possess the skills they need," says Mandes, who adds that changes reflect the evolving needs of the economy.
Other proposed changes include:
- permitting the use of technology-based and distance learning in technical instruction
- adding new requirements for apprenticeship instructors that include a requirement that instructors be familiar with training techniques and adult learning styles
- improving linkages of state apprenticeship agencies with the public workforce investment system under the Workforce Investment Act.
Workplace learning and performance professionals working with registered apprenticeship programs can submit comments. The proposal will remain open for public comment through February 11, 2008, after which the Department of Labor will issue its final regulations.