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National Apprenticeship System Enhancements: What You Should Know About the Proposed Rule

employee vs. independent contractor

By Trent Cotney

If you currently use apprentices in your construction business—or if you have plans to use them in the future—you should be aware of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed rule on apprenticeship regulations. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was announced on December 14, 2023, and it was published in the Federal Register on January 17, 2024.

According to the DOL press release, the proposed rule is intended to strengthen labor standards and worker protections, better align with post-secondary education, and provide improved performance data. The proposal “affirms Registered Apprenticeship as the proven, gold-standard earn-and-learn model for increasing earnings and getting workers into good-paying jobs in many industries; promotes enhanced accountability and transparency; and places added focus on data and outcomes.”

Goals of the Proposed Rule

On January 25, John Ladd, administrator, Employment and Training Administration/Office of Apprenticeship, U.S. Department of Labor, moderated a webinar that provided an overview of the proposed rule. The webinar stated that the central goals of the proposed rule are as follows:

  • Expansion with Quality: The rule intends to offer new tools and entry points, provide more data, accountability, and transparency, and focus on outcomes.

  • Equity at the Center: The rule integrates the standards of the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and advances the principles of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA).

  • Consistency and Innovation: The rule clarifies partner roles in the National Apprenticeship System, links to education and workforce systems, and promotes innovation.

In that webinar, Brent Parton, principal deputy assistant secretary, Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, explained the need for apprenticeship modernization: “There’s a general demand for more earn-and-learn pathways that protect workers, that offer quality, that offer results, and a demand for more seamless on-ramps into the registered apprenticeship system, again, everyone from underrepresented workers to students. And also looking at how we position the system to thrive, to continue to grow amidst new challenges and opportunities in our workforce from demographic change, technologies, to of course the evolving landscape of industries.”

Highlights of the Proposal

This update to the apprenticeship system includes the following requirements:

  • Eligibility standards, including what occupations are suitable for the national apprenticeship program

  • Expectations and strategies related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility

  • Minimum duration to include at least 144 hours of instruction and 2,000 hours of learning on the job

  • Revisions to standards related to nondisclosure and noncompete agreements

  • Robust recordkeeping, including data reporting and ongoing reporting of apprenticeship progress and end-point assessments

In addition, the proposed rule calls for creating a new Career and Technical Education (CTE) Apprenticeship program that would be connected to high schools, community colleges, and universities. This program would require at least 540 hours of CTE instruction for apprenticeships and 900 hours of paid training on the job.

Apprenticeship program sponsors would incur first-year costs in the areas of rule familiarization, documentation, data collection and reporting, program review, and other requirements. Those compliance costs, according to DOL estimates, would total approximately $3,600 per sponsor. Smaller participating employers would incur labor costs for rule familiarization and record keeping, estimated at only $343.69.

Reactions and Commenting Opportunities

Employers that review the proposed rule are encouraged to provide written comments by March 18, 2024 (60 days after publication). However, some business owners have already noted that the proposal is so long that they need more time to review it. 

Beyond that, small business owners have voiced concern about how difficult compliance with the standards might be, and they worry that the cost estimates are far too low. In particular, the recordkeeping mandates may prove unwieldy for many companies. 

Final Thoughts

The apprenticeship program is a vital labor pipeline for the construction industry, and it is admirable that the DOL is trying to improve and enhance how it works. However, some of the proposed requirements may be challenging for most contractors.

If you have questions about how the new rule might impact you or what comments might get the DOL’s attention, do not hesitate to consult legal counsel. An experienced construction attorney can help explain the proposed expectations and how they will apply to your business. 

The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.

Trent Cotney is a partner and Construction Practice Group Leader at the law firm of Adams and Reese LLP. For more information, you can contact Trent at 866.303.5868 or


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