The Push for Answers on Stalled Apprenticeship Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  A grilling for Assistant Secretary of Labor John Pallasch at a recent hearing on apprenticeships on Capitol Hill.

“From my experience, this type of behavior typically means there is something to hide,” said Rep. Susan Davis, a Democrat from California.

Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee pushed Pallasch, who previously served as Executive Director of Kentucky’s Department of Labor, for clarity on the status of the Trump administration’s Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs also known as IRAP.

Pallasch said he could offer few answers.

The Labor Department admitted last month to misusing more than a million dollars allocated by Congress to other apprenticeship programs for IRAP. IRAP has not produced a single apprenticeship program. 

“The Trump administration has proposed hasty and sweeping changes that lower the protections in place for these very successful apprenticeship programs,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington. 

“The IRAP rule is in open notice and comment rulemaking so I’m unable to comment on the rule itself,” said Pallasch.

The IRAP program, which has suffered a host of false starts throughout the last two years, would be designed and operated by private business groups.

The Trump administration argues the intention of the program is to increase opportunities and provide a new pathway for people to enter the workforce.

House Republicans say this type of innovation could reduce regulatory burdens for businesses.

“Those of us in Congress that hear from our employers every day that their biggest challenge today in business is finding workers. They can grow their business, invest and make additional capital, which is what we want to grow the economy,” said Rep. James Comer, a Republican from Kentucky.

“I strongly believe Congress must find ways to best facilitate the apprenticeship system,” said Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Republican from Kentucky.

Even though there is deep concern about the IRAP program, both Republicans and Democrats support apprenticeships and believe they can help close the skills gap while strengthening the workforce.

Pallasch says the Labor Department has made progress in streamlining the overall apprenticeship application process.

“Traditionally the registered apprenticeship application was around 65 pages. Since coming to Washington, working with the Office of Apprenticeship, we’ve reduced that down to 12 pages,” he said.

More than 300,000 public comments have been submitted about the Trump administration’s apprenticeship plan.