Hearkening back to his hit television show, “The Apprentice,” in which billionaire businessman Donald Trump tasked contestants with running short-lived businesses and fundraising events in an effort to prove their mettle, President Trump on June 15 signed an executive order which will provide all young Americans with the opportunity to “earn while they learn” a profession.
President Trump’s order is seeking to expand apprenticeships, in part by opening the door to alternative education providers and giving industry groups, such as health care and retail, a more active role with the federal apprenticeship program.
“Apprenticeships place students into great jobs without the crippling debt of traditional four-year college degrees,” Trump said at a White House event, adding, “Instead, apprentices earn while they learn — which is an expression we’re using: Earn while you learn.”
Just before signing the order, Trump explained that more than helping “all Americans find a rewarding career, earn a great living, and support themselves and their families,” he wants people to “love going to work in the morning.”
Federal restrictions that have prevented many different industries from creating apprenticeship programs will be lifted. Trump noted that the Obama era left the nation’s businesses with “regulations on top of regulations.” In his typically modest manner, Trump announced, “And in history, nobody has gotten rid of so many regulations as the Trump administration. And that’s one of the reasons that you see the jobs and the companies all kicking in so strongly.”
Trump pledged $200 million to a grant system called Apprenticeship USA. The money would come from existing job training programs. The executive order would leave it to industry to design apprenticeships under broad standards to be set by the Labor Department.
Roughly 505,000 people work in federally registered apprenticeships, which have a required educational component and typically last more than two years. Employers must apply to participate in the program, and the registration process has been called cumbersome at best. With few federal incentives for apprenticeship programs, employer participation has been low; just 0.3 percent of the work force are apprentices.
The new executive order encourages federal agencies to help nongovernmental and noncollege organizations create apprenticeship programs that could be fast-tracked for federal registration status.
“These third parties may include trade and industry groups, companies, nonprofit organizations, unions, and joint labor-management organizations,” the order said. It also calls for the creation of a federal task force to help promote apprenticeships.
A wide range of experts and industry groups praised the administration’s focus on apprenticeships, although some reportedly worried about opening up the federal process to outside players.
“What is the purpose of this alternative system? It’s not clear that they’re solving any problems with it,” said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills with the education policy program at New America and a former official at the U.S. Education and Labor Departments. “Apprenticeship has some very clear standards. That’s why it works so well.”
Critics warn that relaxing and outsourcing federal standards for apprenticeships will cause confusion, fragmentation and have the potential for registering programs that are too short-term or would not produce portable credentials. U.S. Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, who is the top Democrat on the House Education Committee, said in a written statement that the order fails to “maintain necessary quality controls and accountability requirements.”
Business groups, on the other hand, welcomed the administration’s move. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a written statement praised the White House for “offering solutions that bring the business community to the table.”
The Business Roundtable had a similar message. “Work-and-learn models, including internships and apprenticeships, are powerful tools to close the skills gap and meet our nation’s work force needs. We support the president’s challenge and look forward to partnering with government at every level as we work together to rebuild the pipeline that generates top talent,” said Wes Bush, the chairman, CEO and president of Northrop Grumman Corporation and chair of the Business Roundtable’s Education and Workforce Committee, in a written statement.
The National Skills Coalition said it appreciates that the executive order includes a public comment period on new regulations from the Labor Department that relate to the apprenticeship push.
“NSC hopes to work with the administration to make sure the new system offers the protections and transparency necessary to ensure that new apprentices will receive the necessary wage gains and industry certifications that will put them on a path to a family-supporting career,” wrote Andy Van Kleunen, the coalition’s CEO, in his statement.
Some Democrats are complaining that President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget slashed funding to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and to adult education, stating that these programs could be reformed. But according to Trump, they need to go.
“Finally, federally-funded education and work force development programs that do not work must be improved or eliminated so that taxpayer dollars can be channeled to more effective uses,” stated President Trump.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta is inviting interested persons to submit nominations for individuals to serve on the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion.
Any interested person or organization may nominate one or more qualified individuals for membership on the task force. If you would like to nominate yourself or another person for appointment to the panel visit the government’s website.
Nominees will be appointed based upon their demonstrated qualifications, professional experience, and demonstrated knowledge of issues related to the scope and purpose of the task force, as well as the need to obtain a diverse range of views on this important subject.
Nominations for individuals to serve on the task force must be postmarked or received electronically by August 8, 2017.