It Can Be Done

High School to Registered Apprenticeship Programs are Possible Under State and Federal Law

There are many misconceptions floating around about the legality of school-to-work apprenticeship programs throughout Indiana’s business community. Given that so many Hoosier companies often mention a strong desire for skilled labor, one would think that more organizations would be looking into recruiting and training young people as a valuable solution to the skills-gap issue, but the fact is many just believe that it’s not possible.

From the top down, many government officials, school officials, and employers say “it can’t be done”, or “Department of Labor regulations prohibit kids from working on the shop floor” – but these notions simply aren’t true. State and federal regulations do allow 16 and 17 year old high school students to participate in registered apprenticeship programs, provided that these programs adhere to a specific set of basic stipulations.

“I have been an advocate for these types of school-to-work or school-to-apprenticeship programs for several years as one tool to help bridge the “skills gap” for those young people who choose not to follow the traditional college-education path, or who may not be quite ready to attend college immediately after high-school,” said Rick J. Ruble, Indiana Department of Labor Commissioner.

“Young people can get into USDOL bona fide apprenticeship programs at age 16,” Ruble said. “There are even exemptions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that allow 16-year old and 17-year old workers to perform jobs that they would otherwise be prohibited by federal law from performing.”

School-to-registered-apprenticeship programs could stand as a very proactive approach that employers can take to directly impact the skills-gap problem, and there are numerous benefits that companies should recognize. For one, employers will be given the opportunity to provide input regarding industry standards and student occupational education and training. Which in turn will give companies a platform for developing occupational standards and a customized occupational training plan that will be capable of producing individuals uniquely skilled to meet the needs of their business.

Subsequently companies will also be given the noble benefit of working closely with a student who could very well grow into a full-time employee. Working closely with the student, parents, classroom instructors, counselors, and Office of Apprenticeship will help companies ensure the student’s program success, as well as support program activities and goals.

There are four conditions required to establish a school-to-registered-apprenticeship program, as noted by the Indiana Department of Labor (IDOL) and the U.S. Department of Labor.

  • There must be a student who is minimally (according to employer’s criteria) qualified for the job and has the ability and interest to pursue employment and training in the field.
  • There must be an employer willing to provide supervised paid on-the-job training.
  • There must be related instruction available which directly supports the on-the-job training.
  • Upon graduation, the student must be able to engage in 144 hours/year of related instruction and 2000 hours/year of on-the-job training in order to complete their apprenticeship program. Program flexibility is possible based on employer and apprentice need.

With regard to hazardous occupations, young people in Indiana are still eligible to participate because they receive safety training both at school and on-the-job. The apprentices are required to be closely supervised by at least one professional worker at all times, which helps to ensure safety and best practices are closely observed.

In addition to the outlined conditions that must be met, Commissioner Ruble mentioned a few other key suggestions that may help entities help a program of this type become established.

“Collaboration with all involved parties (i.e. local business, school officials, labor union, etc.) is very important. Also, input or involvement should be sought from USDOL – ETA,” Ruble said.

He also said that companies interested in implementing programs of this kind should involve their worker’s compensation insurance carriers in the discussion process from the onset, to cover all legal and liability obligations.

For employers who feel that taking on apprentices isn’t possible for their particular company, it’s important to remember there are over 1000 occupations that can qualify for registered apprenticeships under the U. S. Department of Labor’s guidelines.

In order to qualify, the occupation only needs to meet the following criteria:

  • Be widely recognized as a distinct occupation throughout an industry.
  • Be customarily learned in a practical way through a systematic program of supervised on-the-job training.
  • Involve training in manual, mechanical or technical skills and knowledge.
  • Require approximately 144 hours of related instruction for each 2,000 hours of on-the-job-training.

This means that there is a wide variety of different companies that can legally begin growing their own skilled labor from within through the use of apprenticeships – far beyond the typical perception of apprenticeships only existing in the construction trades.

Many companies throughout Indiana are certainly missing out on some incredible young people who could grow to be valuable employees, all due to a silly misconception about youth labor regulations. At the same time, many young Hoosiers aren’t being exposed to some terrific career paths. Moving forward, consider implementing a school-to-registered-apprenticeship in your company – it just might prove to be extremely valuable.