The Biden Administration issued an executive order (E.O.) to expand the use of registered apprenticeships to train current federal workers, encourage the hiring of apprentices by federal agencies, and incentivize apprenticeship utilization among grantees and contractors. 

What is a Registered Apprenticeship? The original form of “learning while earning,” apprenticeships combine paid employment with hands-on learning experiences. Registered apprenticeship programs are formally recognized by either the U.S. Department of Labor or the state in which the program operates. The registration process is designed to ensure certain quality standards (e.g., wage progression) and can also make apprenticeship programs eligible for certain federal or state funding opportunities. 

Increasing Apprenticeships in Federal Hiring and Training

To expand the use of registered apprenticeships across the federal government, the E.O. calls on federal agencies to identify roles or occupations for which a registered apprenticeship can either prepare new employees joining the agency or upskill incumbent workers into a new role. 

The E.O. notes that registered apprenticeships may be a useful solution for filling roles that agencies have struggled to fill, and also requires agencies to develop recruitment strategies that reach individuals who otherwise would not have known about or pursued an apprenticeship.  

An interagency working group – led by leaders from the Office of Management and Budget, Domestic Policy Council, and National Economic Council, among others, and including representatives from every agency – will develop an assessment of federal hiring and upskilling needs and how registered apprenticeship may play a role in solving them within 180 days. This report will guide implementation of the E.O. at the agency level. 

Incentivizing Apprenticeships through Procurement and Grants

The E.O. also asks agencies to identify programs, procurements, or grants that could be a conduit for encouraging private sector use of registered apprenticeships. These could come in the form of “requirements, application evaluation factors, or incentives in appropriate program documents or solicitations for grantees or contractors” that would benefit companies or contractors that employ individuals who are either currently in a registered apprenticeship program or who have completed a registered apprenticeship. 

Agencies will be expected to report the outcomes of these efforts annually to the Working Group. 

The Return of Labor-Management Forums 

Finally, the E.O. also re-establishes Labor-Management Forums, which create an official  structure for discussion between leadership from federal agencies and unions representing front-line workers at those agencies. The move reverses former President Trump’s revocation of these entities in 2017

What is a Labor-Management Forum? As described in the E.O., a Labor-Management Forum is “a non adversarial [assembly] for managers, employees, and employees’ union representatives to discuss how Federal Government operations can promote satisfactory labor relations and improve the productivity and effectiveness of the Federal Government.”

The forums are meant to complement current collective bargaining processes, and empower unions – and the employees they represent – to provide substantive input on the recommendations for scaling registered apprenticeships and other future federal workplace and workforce issues.

Go deeper: The full text of the executive order is available here.