PEWAUKEE, Wis. — President Donald Trump is making the case for more apprenticeships to match workers with millions of open jobs, invoking the namesake of his long-running reality television show.
Trump, whose resume includes TV’s “The Apprentice,” joined daughter Ivanka Trump and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta at a Wisconsin event on Tuesday focused on getting private companies and universities to pair up and pay the cost of learn-to-earn arrangements.
The president was touring a Waukesha, Wisconsin, technical college along with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced questions before the Senate Intelligence Committee on potential Trump campaign ties to Russia and the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Prior to the event on apprenticeships, Trump joined with four people he described as “victims” of the President Barack Obama’s health care law on an airport tarmac in Milwaukee. Trump said the health care law was “one of the greatest catastrophes that our country has signed into law and the victims are innocent hard-working Americans.” He singled out Michael and Tammy Kushman of Marinette County, Wisconsin, and Robert and Sarah Stoll of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
As Sessions was being grilled on Trump’s firing of Comey, Trump planned to outline his push to train workers with specific skills for particular jobs that employers say they can’t fill at a time of historically low unemployment.
The most recent budget for the federal government passed with about $90 million for apprenticeships, and Trump so far isn’t proposing adding more.
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 November 2016 report by former President Barack Obama’s Commerce Department found 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 multiple job sectors beyond Trump’s beloved construction trades. There are shortages in agriculture, manufacturing, information technology and health care.
Participants get on-the-job training while going to school, sometimes with companies footing the bill.
IBM, for example, participates in a six-year program called P-TECH. Students in 60 schools across six states begin in high school, when they get a paid internship, earn an associate’s degree and get first-in-line consideration for jobs from 250 participating employers.
It relies on funds outside the apprenticeship program — a challenge in that the Trump budget plan would cut spending overall on job training. The program uses $1.2 billion in federal funding provided under the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act passed in 2006, said P-TECH co-founder Stan Litow.
“This really demonstrates what you can do with apprenticeships with existing dollars,” Litow said.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said Trump’s “rhetoric doesn’t match the reality” of budget cuts he’s proposing that would reduce federal job training funding by 40 percent from $2.7 billion to $1.6 billion.
“If you’re really interested in promoting apprenticeship, you have to invest in that skills training,” said Mike Rosen, president of the Milwaukee chapter of the American Federation of Teachers union.
Apprenticeships are few and far between. Of the 146 million jobs in the United States, about 0.35 percent — or slightly more than a half-million — were filled by active apprentices in 2016. Filling millions more jobs through apprenticeships would require the government to massively ramp up its efforts. “Scaling is the big issue,” said Robert Lerman, a fellow at the Urban Institute.
Another complication: only about half of apprentices finish their multi-year programs, Lerman said. Fewer than 50,000 people — including 11,104 in the military — completed their apprenticeships in 2016, according to Labor Department.
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