College isn’t for everyone. Neither is a trade school. However, there’s another avenue one can take to become a technician, reveals Jason Blake, executive vice president and COO of The AED Foundation. The Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs) is “another path of learning,” he indicates.
IRAPs are high-quality apprenticeship programs recognized by a third-party entity under standards established by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in a new rule. Through these programs, people can obtain relevant training in the workplace and progressively advance their skills to earn an industry-recognized credential, all while getting paid for their work.
Defining the programs
Apprenticeships were regulated in England as long ago as the 16th century, and the U.S. passed laws regarding apprenticeships in 1851. But this old idea has recently been improved upon, and today’s IRAPs are effective programs overseen by a Standards Recognition Entity adhering to the Department of Labor standards.
An apprenticeship program provides an opportunity to gain relevant knowledge and skills on the job. IRAPs include a payment component as well as an educational component, with successful completion resulting in certification.
Apprentices are paid a fair wage while they learn on the job in a structured work experience designed to demonstrate progressive learning and competency in acquired skills. IRAPs must include a written training plan and an agreement that outlines the terms and conditions of the apprentice’s employment and training and must adhere to all applicable safety and Equal Employment Opportunity laws.
Mentorship is an intrinsic aspect of the program. Supervision and training by a qualified mentor go hand-in-hand with other forms of instruction. “It’s based on hours,” Blake says. “That includes hours in the field, on the job with a mentor, and online learning – with hurdles to pass.” The mentor and the participating dealership will produce progress reports, and an annual evaluation will be provided by the Evaluation Team Leader (ETL). As goals are met and hurdles are passed, an apprentice’s pay will increase.
Expanding, improving and regulating apprenticeship programs will help close the skills gap by guaranteeing that trained technicians have obtained relevant skills. Companies participating in the IRAP program have immediate access to the job pool and an expectation of skilled labor in the future.
“Generation Z is looking for value and loyalty,” Blake surmises, adding that he considers this program a good match for them.
It’s also good for rural dealers without an accredited school nearby, he adds. While the Foundation resolutely supports its accredited trade school program, IRAPs add an option for dealerships and aspiring technicians who aren’t in proximity to a participating school – as well as those for whom the school is not the right option. “This won’t replace the accredited programs. It’s for [dealership] members without accredited programs near them,” Blake reiterates, “but it’s also for those who want just the apprentice program with no schooling.”
Apprentices also benefit from IRAPs. They gain industry-recognized credentials and on-the-job paid training in a real-world setting. They can acquire the necessary high-in-demand skill set without the burden of college loans for tuition. They also start work immediately and can make contacts in the industry for future job placement, magnifying their opportunities to acquire a high-paying job.
With the intent of expanding apprenticeship programs in this country, President Trump signed an executive order in 2017, directing the Secretary of Labor to propose regulations that promote the development of programs by third parties and establish a task force on apprenticeship expansion that includes trade associations among other representatives and public officials.
The following year, the task force recommended establishing IRAPs to provide tools to create quality apprenticeship programs. In May, the Department of Labor will begin accepting applications from third parties to become Standards Recognition Entities (SREs), who will evaluate and monitor IRAPs to ensure they meet and maintain the department’s standards.
Responsibilities and requirements for SREs have been outlined. Recognized SREs will be granted some flexibility to expand the apprenticeship model into new industries to address their diverse workforce needs. “SREs oversee and set standards for the apprenticeship program,” Blake explains. “They make sure it’s competency-based and there is a work element and a mentor.”
In accordance with the U.S. Department of Labor’s goal of developing industry-recognized apprenticeship programs, The AED Foundation is pursuing this opportunity for the equipment industry. Blake says the Foundation, which already had a task force to look at the skills gap, has spent two years “learning and talking to the DOL, researching and reviewing school programs.”
They had a meeting in October to evaluate the standards and curricula of AED Foundation-accredited schools to determine if they meet the apprenticeship component. “That was the biggest hurdle,” Blake reveals. Now, he says, they’re adjusting the standards.
Open application to become an accrediting body begins in May. “Once The AED Foundation is an SRE – hopefully around September,” Blake speculates, “the next step is to create a strategic plan to identify candidates.” He anticipates asking ETLs to assess and nominate dealers.
Phase One involves evaluating candidates with programs already in place, Blake says. Phase Two expands to finding new candidates willing to start from scratch. The goal is to enable dealerships to develop and launch programs quickly, using innovative, industry-driven approaches to scale a proven workforce education model.
“Apprenticeships are widely recognized to be a highly effective job-training approach for American workers and for employers seeking the skilled workforce needed in today’s changing workplace,” said Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia. The AED Foundation’s participation in the IRAP program will provide a flexible, innovative, alternative way to create apprenticeship opportunities in areas where they are currently are not available.