To broaden career opportunities in registered apprenticeships for traditionally underrepresented groups, the U.S. Department of Labor has issued a final rule that updates equal employment opportunity requirements.

The final rule amends existing requirements last updated in 1978 and extends current protections against discrimination to include disability, age (40 years or older), genetic information, and sexual orientation.

The rule’s provisions simplify the steps employers and sponsors must take to make compliance easier, ensure equal opportunity in apprenticeship, and help businesses leverage the program’s benefits.

The final rule aligns with the $90 million funding strategy to grow and diversify apprenticeship announced in April 2016.

It follows a $175 million investment in apprenticeship announced in Sept. 2015 by the Obama administration and includes partnership contracts that focus specifically on increasing access to apprenticeship opportunities for women, people of color, and people with disabilities.

Benefits of Apprenticeships

Job-driven apprenticeships are among the best pathways to provide American workers with the skills and knowledge they need to acquire good-paying jobs and grow the economy.

Research shows 91% of those who complete their apprenticeship programs find employment with average wages above $60,000.

The return on investment for employers is also impressive: International studies find that for every dollar spent on apprenticeship, employers get an average of $1.47 back in increased productivity and greater front-line innovation.

The regulation takes effect on Jan. 18, 2017, 30 days following publication in the Federal Register, but the rule provides more time beyond that for sponsors to come into compliance with the non-discrimination and affirmative action obligations in the rule.

The Labor Department will provide a series of technical assistance opportunities to all state apprenticeship agencies and other key stakeholders.