Mixed Response to Trump Apprenticeship Program
President Trump’s executive order this week to increase federal funding for apprenticeship programs received mixed reviews from members of Congress and experts on job training programs. Many lauded the additional spending and White House attention to an issue that has broad bipartisan support, but critics called details of the plan sketchy at best, and potentially counterproductive at worst.
The executive order, signed by Trump on Thursday, June 15, approximately doubles the $200 million currently spent on “learn-to-earn” programs. How the increase would be paid for was not entirely clear, but the new money would come from reductions in existing job training programs. The order would also give private industry the responsibility to design apprenticeship programs under standards set by the Labor Department.
“We’re training people to have great jobs and high paying jobs,” Trump said at a White House ceremony. “We’re here today to celebrate the dignity of work and the greatness of the American worker.”
A half-dozen GOP governors who attended the event lauded Trump’s action. “We very much appreciate his focus,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told reporters.
The broad-based nonprofit National Skills Coalition also expressed some initial support. “National Skills Coalition applauds President Trump’s call for more Americans to enroll in apprenticeships that lead to some of the millions of available, good-paying jobs in the U.S. that do not require a four-year college degree,” CEO Andy Van Kleunen said in a statement. “While we have questions about some of the proposal’s details…., [it] seems to adopt elements of NSC’s long-standing recommendation to harness the collective power of associations of employers, unions, and other industry stakeholders to update local workforce strategies.”
Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of Opportunity America, said that while details of the order remain to be worked out, presidential attention to an issue she called “the gold standard of workforce training” is important and much-needed.
“The bully pulpit attention is really important,” Jacoby told Spotlight. “There are not a lot of people talking about the skills gap… [Trump] is responding to the real needs and concerns of his voters with something tangible that can help them.”
While acknowledging that many details remain to be worked out, Jacoby said the order’s general intent to streamline the registration process for private companies to qualify with the Labor Department is a positive. Private industry wants apprenticeships but “they don’t want the government in their hair. Registration is deterring companies from creating programs.”
Others saw the order’s less stringent regulations as a decided negative. “We get that he wants to put a little more money toward the grants, but they’re also trying to eliminate some of the oversight,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Ore.) told The Associated Press. She is co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. Susan Collins, (R-Maine) to give companies tax incentives for apprenticeships.. “You don’t want a fly-by-night training program,” she said.
The order deals with a “real problem” in the current program, former Obama administration economic aide Aaron Sojourner said in a Twitter post. “Each company must devise its own curriculum and get it government certified, a hassle and a wasteful barrier. But shredding accountability opens up room for grifters and introduces a problem suffered by many students in for-profit higher-ed.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told The Washington Post that the order was an effort by the White House to “paper over” a proposed cut in overall federal job training programs of close to 40 percent.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a strongly critical statement about the order: “Almost five months into the Trump administration, the American people still have not seen Republicans put forward a single concrete legislative proposal to create more good-paying jobs and raise wages for hard-working Americans. Increasing access to high-quality, accountable apprenticeship programs should be a priority. Instead, President Trump has put forward a disastrous plan that offers a handout to employers that pay poor wages, freely discriminate and ignore worker safety protections, while providing zero oversight on how taxpayer dollars are spent.”
There are about 500,000 apprenticeship positions in the U.S., representing less than a percentage of the nation’s workforce. The strategy has bipartisan support as a way of closing the nation’s skill gap and offering a ladder to employment for low-income Americans for whom four-year college may not be a financial option.