Trump's Apprenticeship Plans Taking Shape

Workforce development at the top of the week's agenda

Photo: Chuck Yeager, Flickr Creative Commons

Following on the heels of “infrastructure week,” the Trump administration’s “workforce development week” will see a slew of announcements and executive orders aimed at improving the country’s employment and training programs, from apprenticeship to career and technical education to job training programs. The Center on Education & Skills will be reporting on these announcements as they emerge.

It's set to be a big week in workforce development. On Tuesday, the president and Ivanka Trump will travel to Wisconsin to visit a new manufacturing training center at Waukesha County Technical College. On Wednesday, he’ll make a speech at the Frances Perkins Building, home to the U.S. Department of Labor, and on Thursday he’ll sit down with a group of Republican governors to discuss skill gaps and talent pipelines. 

While we still don’t have the full picture of the administration's workforce plans, we've seen some hints about its general direction. As we watch for more details, here are a few thoughts on what we hope to see — and what we hope we won’t:  

Doing more with less money 

The administration has gone on the record praising career and technical education (CTE) and calling for wider access to job training programs, but at the same time it has proposed gigantic cuts to Title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical and Education Act, the two major federal programs funding our job training and CTE systems. A piece in Politico over the weekend quoted a senior administration official saying that “money isn’t the problem” with these programs — it’s the way the government spends it. We expect to hear more this week about how the administration plans to streamline and consolidate a variety of federal programs so that the government can do more with less.

Republican administrations often complain that America’s workforce and CTE programs are inefficient and duplicative, and it’s no surprise that we’re hearing it now. What is surprising is the severity of the proposed cuts, which points to an agenda that goes well beyond simply making government more efficient. Our workforce and CTE systems are already underfunded compared to other countries, and they aren’t going to get better if we keep starving them of resources. But that’s what we are likely to hear from the White House this week — and that’s disappointing.

Modernizing apprenticeship and quality assurance 

The administration has indicated a clear interest in continuing apprenticeship expansion, which is great news. The White House budget calls for continuing new federal funding for apprenticeship, and administration officials from Ivanka Trump to Gary Cohn have sung its praises.    

We are eager to learn more about the administration’s vision and plans for growing American apprenticeship, and expect that the White House will want to make it easier for employers to develop apprenticeship programs. One way to do that would be to modernize the existing system for registering programs so that it is nimbler and more responsive to the needs of employers in newer industries like IT and healthcare. But as we've already written, there is a danger of over-correcting: registration remains our best bet for ensuring that apprenticeship programs meet basic quality standards, including labor protections for apprentices.

Funding capacity to engage industry in apprenticeship

Then there’s the matter of using federal money to support apprenticeship. Congress has already appropriated another $95 million that will need to be spent this year, and the administration now has the opportunity to say where. But $95 million is unlikely to be enough to sustain a real apprenticeship renaissance, and the Administration would be wise to look for other sources of federal funding. In particular, the Administration could use funds raised through H-1B visa fees, which the Trump Administration could also carve out for apprenticeship. That's what the Obama Administration did in 2015 to kick off the American Apprenticeship Initiative, and there’s no reason that Trump Administration shouldn’t do the same.  

Strengthening connections between apprenticeship and higher education 

Last week, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education quoted Administration officials on their desire to reform our accreditation system and leverage federal student aid dollars to support apprenticeship. There were numerous references to allowing “non-college providers” access to student aid, which would indeed be a significant (and potentially alarming) change in the rules. The White House has since backed off those statements, indicating instead that they are more interested in improving access to non-degree credentials like industry certifications. Here again we’ll have to wait for more precise details, but the Center on Education & Skills advocates strengthening connections between apprenticeship and higher education, and reforming our accreditation system to be more accommodating of work-based learning models. That said, if access to federal student aid is on the table, it must come with strong quality and consumer protections.  


The administration is sure to be walking a tightrope when it announces its plans this week. Getting it right could set the stage for delivering the kind of bipartisan win the president and the country needs — after all, investing in the skills of the American workforce has been among the few issues of agreement among Republicans and Democrats both in Washington and in the States. By contrast, overreaching and overpromising in one direction or another runs the risk of dividing a growing field of advocates, and dragging workforce development and apprenticeship closer to the edge of already receding bipartisan ground.

Authors:

Mary Alice McCarthy is the director of the Center on Education and Skills with the Education Policy program at New America. Her work examines the intersection between higher education, workforce development, and job training policies

Brent Parton is the deputy director of the Center on Education and Skills with the Education Policy program at New America.