By LAURIE KELLMAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered more money and a bigger role for private companies in designing apprenticeship programs meant to fill some of the 6 million jobs now open in the U.S.
Trump signed an executive order to roughly double to $200 million the taxpayer money spent on learn-to-earn programs. The money would come from existing job-training programs. The executive order would leave it to the industry to design apprenticeships using broad standards that will be 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.”
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 money on apprenticeships, so the boost would come from existing money, perhaps from the streamlining process. The officials spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity to preview Trump’s order.
Companies have long complained that they can’t find trained people to fill highly technical jobs, and apprenticeship programs have sprung up around the country. To offer apprenticeships, companies now have to register with the Labor Department and adhere to specific government guidelines.
Under Trump’s order, private industry would have more leeway but still have to register. The Labor Department, the officials said, would review the apprenticeships but under broader standards. Some critics say that means government approval would be more limited.
“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,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Ore., who is 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.”
There are about 500,000 apprenticeship positions in the U.S., a figure equivalent to less than one percent of the U.S. workforce.
Trump had campaigned on creating jobs. The executive order deals with the nation’s “skills gap” that have left millions of open jobs unfilled. Apprenticeships would give students a way to acquire new skill without having the crippling debt that often comes with a degree from four-year college.
Trump accepted a challenge earlier this year from a CEO to create 5 million new apprenticeships.
The Trump administration has said there’s a need that can be met with a change in the American attitude toward vocational education and apprenticeships. A report that former President Barack Obama’s Commerce Department released in 2016 that “apprenticeships are not fully understood in the United States, especially” by employers, who tend to use apprentices for a few, hard-to-fill positions” but not as widely as they could.
The shortages for specifically trained workers cut across various job sectors, from construction trades to agriculture, manufacturing, information technology and health care.
Critics say Trump shouldn’t be promoting apprenticeships while he also proposes cutting federal money for job training by as much as 40 percent — from $2.7 billion to $1.6 billion. There also are questions about oversight of apprenticeship programs that begin and operate almost completely under the control of the company.