Last year, the Obama administration promoted its efforts to expand apprenticeship programs, including $90 million secured in the budget for ApprenticeshipUSA through a bipartisan agreement. “Apprenticeships are among the surest pathways to provide American workers from all backgrounds with the skills and knowledge they need to acquire good-paying jobs and grow the economy,” the Obama administration said in a statement at the time. Now, President Donald Trump, who campaigned on the promise of creating jobs, is addressing apprenticeships as well.

 

Trump signed an executive order yesterday to roughly double taxpayer money spent on learn-and-earn programs under the ApprenticeshipUSA grant system to $200 million. The money would come from existing job training programs, however, the order also calls for a bigger role for private companies in designing apprenticeship programs meant to address an apparent skills gap and fill some of the six million open jobs in the U.S.

 

Speaking at the White House, Trump said the order will “expand apprenticeships and vocational training to help all Americans find a rewarding career, earn a great living and support themselves and their families, and love going to work in the morning.”

 

Trump is directing the government to review and streamline some 43 workforce programs across 13 agencies. Senior administration officials have said Trump was reluctant to spend more federal funds on apprenticeships, so the boost would come from existing money, perhaps from the streamlining process. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to preview Trump’s order, the Washington Post reports.

 

On one hand, critics say Trump can’t promote apprenticeships while he simultaneously proposes cutting federal job training funding by as much as 40 percent—from $2.7 billion to $1.6 billion. There also are questions and considerable concerns about oversight of apprenticeship programs that begin and operate almost completely under the control of a private company.

 

Then again, as an Associated Press story points out, executives have long complained that they can't find trained people to fill highly technical jobs, even though apprenticeship programs have sprung up around the country. Companies now have to register with the U.S. Labor Department and adhere to specific government guidelines. Under Trump’s executive order, private industry would have more flexibility and be eligible for registration by the Labor Department.

 

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., attended the signing ceremony and supports expanding apprenticeships generally.

 

“There is a little bit of uncertainty,” about how the order will be put into effect, said Scott, who also is the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, the AP story reports. He said he recommended to the administration that all apprenticeships be registered, but Trump’s order does not require such registration.

 

“We’re concerned about the unregistered programs,” Scott said. “The key is accountability.”

 

Interestingly, the recent Manufacturing Perceptions Survey from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found that Americans have expressed interest for programs which focus on hands-on skills development, such as internships, apprenticeships and certification on manufacturing skills as possible ways to attract talent to manufacturing. Indeed, 67 percent of the respondents said they believe internships and apprenticeship programs would increase interest in manufacturing careers.

 

That said, apprenticeships are few and far between. Of the 146 million jobs in the U.S., about 0.35 percent—slightly more than a half-million—were filled by active apprentices in 2016. Filling millions more jobs through apprenticeships would require the government to massively ramp up its efforts, so it will be interesting to see how future efforts through ApprenticeshipUSA will have an impact on the U.S. workforce.

 

What are your thoughts on apprenticeships? Does your company hire workers who had been apprentices?