President Donald Trump, who in part built his fame on the popular NBC show “The Apprentice,” has a lofty goal for apprenticeships in the U.S. And that plan might not mean much for the communities in Colorado that stand to benefit the most from strong apprenticeship education, such as Pueblo where the majority of economic development resources are spent on manufacturing.
In June, Trump issued an executive order that promised 4.5 million more apprenticeships in the next five years.
The order calls for a task force, supporting the implementation of apprenticeship education in more two and four-year universities and “provid(ing) more affordable pathways to secure, high paying jobs by promoting apprenticeships and effective workforce development programs, while easing the regulatory burden on such programs and reducing or eliminating taxpayer support for ineffective workforce development programs.”
With the order comes a proposed $95 million budget — $5 million more than what was appropriated in 2016.
So, is adding more than 10 times the number of apprenticeships available now for nearly the same budget realistic?
Not really, said Noel Ginsburg, CEO of CareerWise Colorado, a leading organization in furthering apprenticeship education in the state. Wanting to add 4.5 million more apprenticeships to the economy is a goal that Ginsburg and his organization find themselves aligned with, but when it comes to feasibility, that’s a different story.
Ginsburg, a successful manufacturer from Denver who founded Intertech Plastics at the age of 21, is also vying for a place on the 2018 ballot as a candidate for governor. He announced his candidacy in Pueblo earlier this year, running as what he has described as a moderate Democrat that, like a lot of other candidates, says places outside of Denver feel ignored and are behind the economic growth of Denver.
By 2027 CareerWise hopes to have 20,000 Colorado high school students in apprenticeship programs. The goal was initiated last September when Bloomberg Philanthropies and JPMorgan Chase committed $9.5 million to the program, which will have 250 students involved this year and ideally grow at a rate of 10 percent each year after.
17 employers got on board for the program, along with five school districts.
Ginsburg said CareerWise’s 10 year goal is ambitious, and that’s with several Colorado companies on board and the state as an active partner. Trump’s executive order calls for millions of more apprenticeships with virtually the same budget.
“This model is really designed to serve the majority of Coloradans. If we don’t put the infrastructure in place, it won’t work,” Ginsburg told PULP in an interview. “Ultimately, this model should be paid by businesses because it’s within their interest.”
In many programs a company will pay for the education of a student, in addition to employing the apprentice part time, they are finding alternative ways to get more leads. This is how it works at Pueblo Community College, where there are just two apprenticeship education avenues: electrical maintenance technicians and mechanical maintenance technicians.
Put simply, these technicians are learning how to maintain and fix machinery that may be used in a manufacturing facility. The jobs these apprentices do varies from day to day and it can be extremely complicated and tedious work, said Pueblo Corporate College’s Executive Director Amanda Corum.
The job is a lot of problem-solving, and so the training is extensive and has to cover just about everything an apprentice might run into on the job from mechanics to coding.
Once a four-year apprenticeship program is completed Corum said it’s not uncommon that these students make a yearly salary of around $100,000. On the business end of things, a company may take a bit of a hit by sending a part time employee through an apprenticeship program, but eventually they make that money back with a highly-skilled employee, Corum said.
PCC’s apprenticeship program is small. Only 10 students begin the program each year — and it’s all paid for by private companies. For the program to grow, Corum said, there would have to be more buy in from the companies paying the way for the students, and that can be a challenge.
“Their fear is that this person will get their journeyman card and move on,” Corum said.
But turnover among apprentices tends to be lower. It’s likely a sense of loyalty to the company that fit the bill, Corum said.
So what could a national push for apprenticeships mean for places such as PCC’s highly-specialized programs?
PCC doesn’t receive money directly from the state or federal government. In fact, the entire program is funded by private business. So where money could help is if more of it is offered as an incentive to a business that could send an apprentice to a program, Corum said.
And that has been the case in Pueblo, sometimes. The Pueblo Economic Development Corporation has recruited some companies to Pueblo and recommended to the City of Pueblo that the incentive package include money for apprenticeships.
Ginsburg sees the push for more apprenticeship education, whether it be through the state or from Trump, as a potential game-changer for places such as Pueblo, if the right infrastructure is in place.
“It’s a strategy to address income inequality. If you give the people opportunity to get world-class skills, it attracts world-class business,” Ginsburg said. “This model depends on businesses doing their role, not just as consumers of the students, but to be producers of those skills.”
Corum and Ginsburg both say for a long time there has been a stereotype around apprenticeships that isn’t exactly positive. Skilled education has taken a backseat to four-year degrees.
“Four-year education has been oversold,” Ginsburg said. “That’s not to say that we need less of it. But to say it’s the only path is wrong.”
Attitudes toward apprenticeship education started to shift during the Obama administration, Corum said. Obama signed into law the first-ever annual funding for apprenticeship in the 2016 spending bill — nearly $90 million to support states and companies expanding apprenticeship opportunity.
Obama also boasts adding 75,000 new apprenticeships between 2014 and 2016.
Even so, Trump’s executive order was quick to call out the need for more support and reform of apprenticeship education, especially as “individuals today find themselves with crushing student debt and no direct connection to jobs.”
“Far too many Against this background, federally funded education and workforce development programs are not effectively serving American workers,” the order said.
“Despite the billions of taxpayer dollars invested in these programs each year, many Americans are struggling to find full-time work. These Federal programs must do a better job matching unemployed American workers with open jobs, including the 350,000 manufacturing jobs currently available.”
Corum said the tide on what people think of as good education is starting to turn. And pushes for more skilled job training — like in both the Obama and Trump administrations — may be helping.
But regardless, the next five years for the PCC programs and the potential to expand rely on the needs of Pueblo’s manufacturing base.
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