Bills of Note: Apprenticeships

In mid-September, Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) and Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) introduced a bill (AB 508/SB 411) that would prohibit the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) from requiring apprenticeship programs to have more than one journeyworker per apprentice. The bill also provides a clarification that eliminates minimum apprenticeship length requirements for carpentry and plumbing. Instead, the bill puts the length of such apprenticeships in the hands of industry representatives from State trade committees, similar to virtually all other apprenticeship programs in the state.

The Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform held a public hearing on the bill on Oct. 4. At the hearing, business groups asked legislators to support the bill that they said would give businesses more freedom to hire apprentices. The bill’s authors testified that reducing barriers to employment by creating a baseline 1:1 apprenticeship ratio is a necessary step in solving Wisconsin’s worker shortage. In their written testimony, the authors highlighted the upcoming construction of Foxconn’s tech manufacturing facility that will require thousands of skilled workers.

Also submitting testimony in favor of the bill was Associated Builders and Contractors, Wisconsin Chapter (ABC). ABC said their members are not always able to hire as many apprentices as they want to train because of current DWD rules. The bill, they said, would give employers more flexibility to get more skilled workers into trades without costing taxpayer money or endangering public safety. Others in favor of the bill include Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and Americans for Tax Reform.

DWD and Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors, Wisconsin Chapter submitted testimony for information only.

Those opposed to the bill include Operating Engineers Skill Improvement and Apprenticeship Fund and Wisconsin AFL-CIO. Written testimony from opponents of the bill included arguments that it would reduce safety and quality of work due to insufficient supervision of apprentices.

The Senate committee voted 3-2 on Oct. 12 to pass the bill with one amendment. A hearing has yet to be scheduled in the Assembly.