WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration today announced a proposed rule to update existing Equal Employment Opportunity regulations for Registered Apprenticeship programs. The proposed rule would serve to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans to take part in these apprenticeship programs regardless of race, sex, color, national origin, disability, age, genetic information, or sexual orientation.

“Since President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address, when he challenged employers and educators to double the number of apprenticeships by 2019, the U.S. has had the largest growth in apprenticeships in nearly a decade,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “As we continue to make substantial progress in expanding apprenticeships in America, we also need to make sure that those opportunities are available to women, communities of color, those with disabilities, and other underserved populations who have struggled to navigate or access this critical onramp to the skills superhighway.”

Apprenticeships provide a clear career path forward through new skills, higher wages and opportunities for advancement. Across the nation and all industries, apprentices who complete their programs earn an average starting yearly salary of more than $50,000, and during their careers, they will earn $300,000 more, on average, than their non-apprentice peers.

At the same time, apprenticeship is a proven strategy for recruiting, training, and retaining a highly skilled and diverse workforce. International studies show that for every $1 invested in apprenticeship, employers get $1.47 back in benefits. In addition, 97 percent of businesses with apprenticeship programs would recommend apprenticeship to other companies.

Modernizing and streamlining the rules — which have not been updated since 1978 — will make it easier for employers and program sponsors to effectively grow and diversify their apprenticeship programs.

The proposed rule would improve on existing regulations by:

Extending protections against discrimination to include a broader swath of America’s workforce, including protections based on disability, age (40 or older), sexual orientation, and genetic information

Simplifying and clarifying the affirmative steps employers and sponsors must take to ensure equal opportunity in apprenticeship

Providing new apprenticeship programs with more time to develop initial affirmative action programs, as well as providing all apprenticeship programs that meet their responsibilities under the rule with additional flexibility in how often they must update their plans

Simplifying and clearly defining the process for analyzing the talent available in the labor market to establish clear and achievable goals for diversity in apprenticeship

Clarifying the outreach, recruitment, and retention activities expected of employers by specifying four specific and common-sense required activities, such as advertising openings and partnering with educational institutions to recruit diverse talent

Creating a more flexible framework for the Office of Apprenticeship and States to provide technical assistance and work with apprenticeship programs that are not meeting their affirmative action responsibilities to bring them back into compliance

The public will have until Jan. 5, 2016, to provide comments on the proposed rule. Comments can be submitted electronically at http://www.regulations.gov. Additional information about the proposed rule is available at www.doleta.gov/oa/eeo.