Registered Apprenticeship Programs:

Labor Can Better Use Data to Target Oversight

GAO-05-886: Published: Aug 29, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 2005.

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Between 2002 and 2012 nearly 850,000 jobs will open in the construction industry; experts predict that there will not be enough skilled workers to fill them. This has heightened concerns about program outcomes and program quality in the nation's apprenticeship system and the U.S. Department of Labor's oversight of it. GAO assessed (1) the extent to which Labor monitors registered apprenticeship programs in the states where it has direct oversight, (2) its oversight activities in states that do their own monitoring, and (3) the outcomes for construction apprentices in programs sponsored by employers and unions in relation to programs sponsored by employers alone.

Labor's monitoring of programs it directly oversees has been limited. We found that in 2004 Labor reviewed only 4 percent of programs in the 23 states where it has direct oversight. According to federal program directors in those states, limited staff constrained their ability to do more reviews. Also, Labor has focused in recent years on registering new programs and recruiting apprentices. Although Labor collects much data about the programs it oversees, it has not employed its database to generate information indicative of program performance, such as completion rates, that might allow it to be more efficient in its oversight. Labor does not regularly review council-monitored states or collect data from them that would allow for a national picture of apprenticeships. Labor is responsible for conducting formal reviews of the 27 states and the District of Columbia that established apprenticeship councils to monitor their own apprenticeship programs; but, according to directors in these states, the reviews have been infrequent and not necessarily useful. While Labor collects only aggregate data on apprentices from these states, we identified 10 states with large numbers of apprentices that were willing and capable of providing GAO data on apprentices by occupation as well as some information on completion rates, completion times, and wages. Data in Labor's apprenticeship database and from council-monitored states show that completion rates and wages for construction apprentices in programs sponsored jointly by employers and unions were higher than those for programs sponsored by employers alone. We found that completion rates for apprentices in programs jointly sponsored by unions and employers were 47 percent on average compared with 30 percent in programs sponsored solely by employers. Completion rates declined under both types of sponsorship for the period we examined, but Labor, as part of its oversight, does not track reasons for noncompletion, making it difficult to determine what lies behind this trend.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Registered Apprenticeship Information System enhancement efforts were completed and the new system, Registered Apprenticeship Partnership Information Data System (RAPIDS), was implemented in November 2007. The initial system design was developed by Federal and state staff in partnership with apprenticeship stakeholders that included State Apprenticeship Agencies (SAAs), employers, and sponsors. RAPIDS features a new electronic program component that allows sponsors to input data electronically in a more timely process and allows apprentices to identify career linkages to other employment and training programs. The redesigned system also offers an interface component that will allow the exchange of common data elements from the SAA states into RAPIDS. New reports are being designed to provide trend data analysis that will focus on new occupations, such as "green" industries, and benchmark penetration rates in apprenticeship against the Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational projections.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should take steps to better utilize information in Labor's database, such as indicators of program performance, for management oversight, particularly for apprenticeship programs in occupations with expected future labor shortages.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal 2008, Labor reported that, in the short term, it is developing a request to receive more comprehensive information from council-monitored states on a quarterly basis. In the long, term the agency will continue to encourage these states to participate in its data base. According to Labor, it is offering technical assistance and information as a way to accomplish such participation. Labor has not taken any additional actions in fiscal 2009.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should take steps to develop a cost-effective strategy for collecting data from council-monitored states.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor established improved processes, procedures, and timelines for these reviews. As of September 2005, Labor reviewed 14 self-regulatory states and is on schedule to complete reviews of the remaining states in 2006. These efforts will ensure that apprenticeship activities in these states are in alignment with federal guidelines.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should take steps to conduct Labor's reviews of apprenticeship activities in states that regulate their own programs on a regular basis to ensure that state activities are in accord with Labor's requirements for recognition of apprenticeship programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to Labor, guidelines have been improved to capture, acknowledge, and report to states, the outcomes of program reviews. Labor notes that the Office of Apprenticeship, along with the Office of the Solicitor, has provided states with substantive feedback, such as comments and recommendation and proposed solutions.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should take steps to offer substantive feedback to states from its reviews.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor


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