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Department of Labor expands apprenticeship opportunities on public works projects

Delaware Department of Labor

Over the next year, Delaware’s Department of Labor will roll out a more robust program to provide building trade apprenticeships.

The goal is to help breathe new life into the state’s skilled construction workforce.

A 2019 Delaware law requires contractors bidding on large public works projects to provide apprenticeships – offering on-the-job experience while the state’s Department of Labor manages the apprentice’s education. But that law didn’t include an enforcement mechanism or offer small contractors who couldn’t hire an apprentice any backup options, limiting the number of contractors able to meet the requirement.

The Labor Department is now implementing a new law to remedy those problems. Aside from establishing penalties for contractors who don’t comply, Secretary of Labor Karryl Hubbard says the new rules also allow smaller contractors to pay into a state fund to support training programs in lieu of bringing on an apprentice.

“Smaller employers, or employers who could not run an apprenticeship program would have an opportunity to bid on public works jobs and still further the idea of expanding apprenticeships in Delaware," she said.

Hubbard says her department’s push to promote apprenticeships in the building trades is a response to the growing number of skilled tradespeople in Delaware aging out of the workforce – a trend that could hobble the state’s efforts to maintain or update its infrastructure.

“This country has an infrastructure problem has an infrastructure problem, and we really need an army of people with skilled craft trades," she said. "And we’re getting to the point where there’s a deficit.”

Delaware’s Office of Apprenticeship currently supports more than 1,600 apprentices statewide, though the Department of Labor and organized labor leadership believe that number needs to rise to both meet demand and to diversify the construction workforce – particularly by bringing more women into the building trades.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.