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Apprenticeships: Can They Work for Your Business?

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Ball clubs have farm teams that they use to develop talent. Small businesses can do the same with apprenticeships to cultivate well-trained employees.

Recently the U.S. Department of Labor proposed revisions to the equal employment opportunity regulations; they haven’t been updated since 1978. Here are some thoughts that you can use to consider implementing apprenticeships at your company and what government rules apply.

Overview of apprenticeships

Apprenticeships were common practice starting in the middle ages. In 1937, the Fitzgerald Act was created to regulate apprenticeships and on-the-job training programs. Then, in 1977, the National Apprenticeship Act, which amended the original act, directed the U.S. Department of Labor to promulgate regulations for a national apprenticeship program.

The federal government is making an investment in apprenticeships, according to Labor Secretary Perez. This is being done through grants and outreach.

Government restrictions

Federal law prohibits discrimination in recruitment, selection, employment, and training of apprentices on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The proposed rule would add disability, age (40 or older), sexual orientation, and genetic information for protected groups; it would clarify that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the bases of gender identity and pregnancy.

The proposed rule would apply to registered apprenticeship sponsors (defined later) with five or more apprentices. However, small businesses implementing their own apprenticeship programs would be well advised to adhere to these nondiscrimination rules in order to protect against possible litigation. Comments to the proposed rule are being accepted through January 5, 2016. It remains to be seen when a final rule will be adopted. Find more information about the proposed rule from the DOL.

A registered apprenticeship is a program that is approved by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship. Such a program may qualify for federal funding. Under a registered program, the apprenticeship typically lasts three to five years, with the sponsor (employer) providing a structured training/mentoring program that is usually combined with classroom education.

Apprenticeships for small businesses?

Do you want to create a registered program? Going this route depends, of course, on your needs and ability to provide the necessary training oversight.

Short of having a registered program, however, you can create on-the-job training programs to suit your situation. Even an internship can be beneficial in developing skills for a potential employee. Keep in mind that even though you are offering training, you still must adhere to the Fair Labor Standards Act with respect to minimum wage and overtime rules (even for interns). If you create an apprenticeship program for your company, be sure to discuss it with a knowledgeable employment law attorney to make sure you meet federal and state law standards.