Source: Bloomberg Law Labor report

The Labor Department’s contractor watchdog is encouraging employers to sponsor apprenticeship programs to both create a pipeline of skilled workers and “increase outreach and recruitment efforts” to fulfill equal employment opportunity requirements.

The apprenticeships can take the form of either a validated DOL or state agency program, or a yet-to-be-released industry-recognized program, which is “a customizable model of apprenticeship recognized by an industry organization, higher‐education institution, or other leader in setting and instructing in‐demand skills,” says the newly published frequently asked questions section on the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ website.

Federal contractors are under the jurisdiction of the OFCCP, which enforces equal employment opportunity laws. The agency randomly audits contractor locations for compliance with these laws, as well as to ensure that they’re recruiting veterans and individuals with disabilities. Apprenticeship programs could help with these goals, the agency said.

Contractors can “use apprenticeship programs as an additional avenue to increase outreach and recruitment efforts, thus expanding applicant pools toward the goal of compliance with equal employment opportunity obligations,” the FAQs say.

This isn’t something contractors might immediately know, Michael Eastman, senior vice president with the Center for Workplace Compliance, said in an email.

“Many contractors may not consider how apprenticeship programs can contribute to a contractor’s affirmative action or diversity programs,” he said. “Apprenticeship programs are one option that may be helpful in developing a greater pool of diverse, qualified employees.”

The agency didn’t immediately respond to a request for a comment.

The Labor Department hasn’t yet rolled out the industry-recognized apprenticeship program, as the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs reviews proposed guidelines that would dictate the program’s accreditors. The industry-recognized program is part of President Donald Trump’s 2017 Executive Order Expanding Apprenticeships in America.

Contractors are required by law to create affirmative action plans, which are tools used to manage and create opportunities for current employees and future applicants, but the plans won’t need to describe “all aspects” of an apprenticeship program, according to the FAQs. That doesn’t mean the affirmative action plan will gloss over an apprenticeship program entirely; the affirmative action plan should measure the effectiveness of the program and “assess for any increase or decrease in the number of promotions, by race/ethnicity and sex,” as part of its data analysis, the FAQs say.

Apprenticeships have been a focus for Labor Department Secretary Alexander Acosta, as well as former OFCCP Director Ondray Harris, but the OFCCP has been mum on the issue since current Director Craig Leen took the helm. The OFCCP previously polled the regulated community to see if apprenticeships were something of interest and held meetings with companies with well-established apprenticeships programs.

Any advice on establishing apprenticeship programs would be appreciated, Woods Rogers attorney King Tower said.

“Although these programs are not for everyone, there is no doubt that employers who use apprenticeships gain advantages in attracting and retaining employees,” he said. “I see this as broadly worthwhile for contractors, but it can certainly have a positive effect on specific recruitment, retention and compensation numbers in areas where contractors have had difficulty reaching their affirmative action goals.”

The DOL is also still juggling whether the construction industry will be included in its industry-recognized apprenticeship program, after it previously said it would be excluded along with the U.S. military. The OFCCP will be conducting construction industry-focused compliance checks, according to a recent announcement. The validity and effectiveness of a construction contractor’s apprenticeship program could be verified during these checks, if approved by the Office of Management and Budget, when the agency reviews the contractor’s affirmative action plan.