Workplace diversity will get a leg up thanks to a planned change in apprenticeship regulations that's been a long time coming. (Image from "Behind the Civil Rights Act, npr.org)
(Reprinted from Gamaliel.org)
The weekend's headlines focused, no surprise, on the flash: President Obama’s announcement that the administration had rejected plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
But the same day his administration gave notice of another key decision that, while less flashy, may have more impact long-term. With no fanfare or "Back to the Future" jokes, the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration issued a news release announcing the first update to Equal Employment Opportunity regulations on apprenticeship programs since 1978.
If you believe broken or unjust systems have kept too many out of those jobs and held back many lower-income communities of color from getting ahead, this is really good news.
You might want to thank the administration for doing it or weigh in positively on this proposed regulation. You have until January 6—but more on that in a moment.
High road to good jobs
Apprenticeships in jobs like manufacturing, construction, health care, homeland security, educational services, and transportation are a high road to good-paying jobs in today’s economy. Apprentices who complete programs earn an average starting yearly salary of more than $50,000 and during their careers earn $300,000 more on average than their non-apprentice peers, Labor officials state.
The Obama administration has been expanding and investing in this area, according to a recent article in Forbes. The Labor Department reported more than 19,000 program sponsors representing more than 200,000 employers offering apprenticeship training to more than 375,000 registered apprentices in 2014.
…But for whom?
Despite that investment, the pool of apprentices fails to reflect the diversity of the work force. People with disabilities, pregnant women, transgender people, and LGBT folks have not been included until now, so there’s no data to track their participation in these jobs and job-training programs.
Working women, African Americans, and Latinos land fewer apprenticeships for lower pay than we might expect given their participation in the U.S. workforce, and the apprenticeships they do get pay less well (all the figures below are from the Labor Department background briefing on the proposed regulation change):
- Most apprenticeships tend to be in construction, but construction has the fewest women apprentices. In 2013, for example, 379 women completed construction apprenticeships compared to 16,510 men.
- In 2014 Latinos comprised 15.8 percent of the civilian labor force in manufacturing, but only 6.3 percent of the manufacturing apprentices.
- Blacks were under-represented in 81 percent of 67 apprenticeship categories, relative to the number of black men in those professions.
- Women and people of color applied for apprenticeships that were among the least well paid. For example painters, electricians and pipe fitters make $25 to $35 per hour but women are from 1 to 8.5 percent of these apprenticeships. Meanwhile CNAs and child care development workers earn less than $15 per hour but women are 85 to 99 percent of these apprentices.
- African American and Latino men apprentices tended to cluster in lower-paying apprenticeship positions, too. For example, blacks make up less than 8 percent of the electrician and plumber apprentices earning about $24 an hour on average but 14 percent of construction laborers earning about $12 an hour on average.
Looking at the numbers, the biggest question about the regulations update seems to be: what took us so long?
The proposed new regulation will help apprenticeship providers catch up with today by updating coverage to align with newer legislation and regulations related to age discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act, gender and sexual orientation and other workplace protections.
It will also provide companies and associations that sponsor apprenticeships clearer guidance and more flexibility on how to do fair outreach and gain a more representative pool of apprentices.
Department of Labor will definitely be looking at and counting the comments pro and con the proposed new regulation--consider commenting on the potential and the need for jobs and training in your neighborhood, even if this sounds like inside baseball to you.