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More states are aiming to require workers’ compensation coverage for those enrolled in apprenticeship programs and technical schools.
More recently, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Wyoming sought to join the states where this coverage is required; California, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Tennessee and Texas have passed legislation urging local education agencies to provide workers’ compensation coverage to students participating in work-based learning, according to the Southern Regional Board of Education. based in Atlanta.
Safety educators and others familiar with the legislative trend say such regulations help bridge the gap. Opposition to legislation expanding workers’ compensation coverage generally boils down to cost, since insuring inexperienced workers in risky professions like construction and manufacturing is often expensive. A good security program can help allay fears and potential claims activity, experts say.
“One of the barriers to work-based learning for high school students is employers’ concern about workers’ compensation and liability in the event a student is injured,” said Mary Taylor, training specialist and industry development of the Frankfurt-based Kentucky Department of Education.
When Kentucky was starting its career tech apprenticeship program, “lack of workers’ compensation insurance coverage proved to be a continuing barrier to putting students in the workplace,” Ms. Taylor said.
To overcome persistent placement issues and provide students with better career paths to registered apprenticeships, Ms. Taylor created a program in partnership with The Adecco Group staffing agency. Through the program, students are on Adecco’s payroll and are covered by the company’s work accident insurance.
“It’s a standard workers’ compensation policy,” said Susan Shemanski, vice president of risk management for Adecco based in Lawrenceville, Georgia. “Workers’ compensation will cover anyone who works for us, regardless of how old they are.”
For students under the age of 18, recruitment and placement proved to be particularly difficult, as insurers do not allow policyholders to hire underage workers. However, with Adecco as the employer of record, the Kentucky program was able to insure underage workers, Taylor said.
“They are also governed by our strict security guidelines,” he added. “We want to make sure that anyone who participates in the program can do so safely; we want them to learn, but we want them to go home at the end of each day safely and without injury.”
Adecco engages its human resources, risk and legal departments to ensure it complies with child labor laws, Ms. Shemanski said. “Basically, we want to have a support system, but also a system that holds the student accountable for learning through this process,” she said.
Since partnering with Adecco, Ms. Shemanski said, the program has recorded two minor injuries.
Safety educators and risk assessors say such emerging programs will help with labor shortages and close the talent gap by educating and protecting a younger workforce in training.
In Indiana, Rep. Bob Behning, a co-sponsor of HB 1094, which would provide workers’ compensation insurance for young apprentices under the age of 18, said such coverage creates a path to employment and minimizes employer liability risk.
“As we’ve had conversations with many employers, there is concern that those kids, because they’re kids, they’re young, have a potentially negative impact on employers, compensation, group insurance and/or liability.” Mr. Behning said.
Others say such training programs are critical to increasing workforce participation.
“We don’t have enough trained people to work in these professions,” said Georgi Popov, a professor in the security sciences program at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg and an adviser to the American Society of Security Professionals and the National Institute of Security. and Occupational Health.
“If companies don’t have trained staff, they will most likely move to another state, or companies will miss out on great job offers.”
Enforcing stricter safety practices has helped manage concerns about compensation premium costs, said Sathy Rajendran, an associate professor and director of the safety and health management program at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.
“Business and students are doing well, and the premium is down,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
“We definitely want entry into youth work-study and apprenticeships to be as risk-free as possible for employers so that they see this as a potential channel for them as well as an opportunity,” said Mr. Behning.
“The intention is that the employer can really get a return on investment from this young man,” he said. “They may lose money in the first year of the program, but by the second year, this student’s productivity will outweigh the cost, and it’s at a lower cost than it would be for an adult who has a full-time job.”
Mixed Results for Work-Based Student Compensation Bills
Legislation providing workers’ compensation coverage for on-the-job students made its way through three state legislatures earlier this year, with poor results for most.
In Indiana, HB 1094 passed both the state House and Senate and was signed into law on March 15. The law requires the state Department of Education to enter into an agreement with employers to pay for workers’ compensation insurance coverage for students enrolled in a work-based learning course no later than December 31, 2022.
Oklahoma’s HB 2384, introduced in 2021, would provide the same workers’ compensation coverage to both paid and unpaid work-based apprenticeship employees and apprentices, and included provisions for premium reductions of up to 5%. The bill died in committee hearings in this year’s legislative session, but its sponsor, Rep. Kyle Hilbert, hopes the issue will be picked up again next year.
In Wyoming, HB 0239 sought to expand employment and apprenticeship opportunities by creating a workers’ compensation policy program in which employers would cover students. The bill died in the Senate in March.