The White House’s Mixed Message on Apprenticeship

The Executive Order aims to strengthen industry engagement and connections to education, but falls short on quality control.

We welcome the Trump Administration’s support for apprenticeship. Over the last decade there has been steady bipartisan backing for strengthening American apprenticeship. The President’s Executive Order—and its promise of an additional $100 million in funding—sends an important message that this administration is also committed to expanding our apprenticeship system into many more industries and communities.

The Executive Order includes many provisions with which we agree. It calls for stronger connections between our apprenticeship system and our schools at both the secondary and postsecondary level. At New America, we are committed to expanding the range of high-quality educational options for young people beyond traditional higher education and four-year degrees, and that includes much greater access to apprenticeship. But until young people can access apprenticeship opportunities through their high schools, colleges, and universities, it will be difficult to increase the number of Americans who choose it.

We also share the administration’s desire to engage the private sector more robustly in the design and development of apprenticeship programs. We are encouraged by the Order’s focus on strengthening the role that industry associations, labor-management funds, and other workforce intermediaries can play in helping employers stand up apprenticeship programs. Creating more opportunities for employer leadership on apprenticeship is essential to its growth.

We also appreciate the administration’s willingness to engage the broader apprenticeship stakeholder community in its work through the proposed Task Forces and periods of public comment. We look forward to these opportunities to engage constructively with the administration to strengthen our apprenticeship system.

While we find much to agree with in the Executive Order, we also have some concerns. We were surprised that the Order included a definition of an “apprenticeship program” that appears to deviate in important respects from the definition in the Code of Federal Regulations. In particular, the new definition raises the question of whether the administration considers the guarantee of progressive wage gains for apprentices an essential component of an apprenticeship program. We look forward to learning more.

We are also concerned that the effort to stand up an alternative system of “industry-recognized” apprenticeships will create even more fragmentation and confusion in our apprenticeship system. Relatedly, we are disappointed by the focus on establishing an alternative path to registration rather than on fixing the existing registration system to make it nimbler and more industry-friendly. This feels like a missed opportunity.

Finally, we lament the administration’s efforts to dramatically reduce federal funding for our public workforce and career & technical education systems. These systems play an increasingly important role in expanding access to apprenticeship by better connecting it to our schools and local employers. They have also undergone many rigorous internal and external evaluations over the last decade, improving their efficiency and effectiveness. In fact, the federal workforce system is in the process of implementing a set of reforms under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that received unprecedented bipartisan support from both houses of Congress. At a time when Americans need more help than ever navigating an increasingly complex, dynamic, and demanding labor market, cutting these programs and directing resources toward more evaluations rather than expanded services makes little sense.

At New America, we are committed to the renewal of American politics and prosperity in a time of accelerating technological, economic, and social change. We believe that apprenticeship—a time-tested and centuries-old approach to teaching—needs to play a much larger role in our future. As traditional higher education grows more expensive but still fails to meet the needs of so many students and employers, Americans need more high-quality options that open up more avenues to opportunity. We look forward to working with the Trump Administration and Congress to significantly expand access to high quality apprenticeship programs across this country.

[Cross-posted at Ed Central]

Mary Alice McCarthy

Mary Alice McCarthy is a senior policy analyst in the Education Policy Program at New America. She has worked at both the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor.