What you should know about apprenticeships, Trump's answer to the skills gap

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Donald Trump will sign an executive order on Thursday that looks to expand apprenticeships and job-training programs by giving more freedom to third-party companies and schools, according to two senior White House officials.

Thursday, President Trump announced an Executive Order that will expand opportunities for Americans to get on-the-job training through apprenticeship programs across industries, including the hospitality sector.

Under the executive order, the Department of Labor will allow more entities - including companies, trade associations and unions - to create job-training programs that will be eligible for federal recognition and support.

The order doubles funding for apprenticeship grants to $200 million by pulling money allotted for existing job-training programs.

"Apprenticeships place students into great jobs without the crippling debt of traditional four-year college degrees", said Trump.

These programs enjoy a fair amount of bipartisan support, and have gotten a lot of buzz in recent months: In a March roundtable discussion, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff called on Trump to create 5 million apprenticeships in the next five years.

Americans are loath to abandon the dream of seeing their kids graduate from college, even if an apprenticeship is more likely to lead to a well-paying job than a four-year liberal-arts degree.

The president wants students to be able to use federal student aid for a wide variety of "earn while you learn" programs, including apprenticeships, the White House officials said.

The administration says apprenticeships could match workers with the nation's estimated 6 million open jobs but he's reluctant to spend more taxpayer money on the effort.

"The President will be calling on businesses across the country to embrace apprenticeships and we do not expect that call to go unanswered", one official said.

Trump highlighted Charles Nobel from Wisconsin who, like many other apprentices present, benefited from an apprenticeship program. Companies now have to register with the Labor Department and adhere to government guidelines. Some critics say that means government approval would be more limited.

The labor standards require sponsors of apprenticeship programs-typically employers, consortia of employers, or unions-to meet certain requirements. The White House estimates there are 6 million vacant jobs that companies can not fill due to a lack of skilled workers.

Trump met with what the White House has been referring to as "victims" of former President Barack Obama's health care law after landing in Milwaukee Tuesday afternoon. This executive order would create a duplicative system that does not guarantee quality training opportunities and provides fewer safeguards for workers, unlike the proven, existing Registered Apprenticeship model. Walker used Trump's past job on the television show "The Apprentice" against him when they were both running for president in 2015. Additionally, the new definition of apprenticeship offered by the executive order, coupled with the lack of clarity on wages and wage progression, makes it totally unclear whether apprentices would be classified as employees and paid at least minimum wage. The task force will also assess whether the job-training programs now in place are even effective. Trump's plan "would loosen standards that ensure businesses getting federal workforce funds actually deliver for workers", Murray said in a statement.

On Monday, Republican Governor Scott Walker told a Fond du Lac audience the state's top priority is to develop its workforce for what employers need - and Walker said Trump is the right person to talk about that.

Another complication: only about half of apprentices finish their multi-year programs.

  • Zachary Reyes