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Donald Trump bats for 'apprenticeships' as way to fill jobs gap, but unwilling to devote funds to plan

Washington: President Donald Trump says apprenticeships could match workers with millions of open jobs, but he's reluctant to devote more taxpayer money to the effort.

Instead, Trump and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta say the administration is focused on getting universities and private companies to pair up and pay the cost of such learn-to-earn arrangements.

File image of Donald Trump. Getty Images

File image of Donald Trump. Getty Images

The president, whose resume includes a long run on the TV show The Apprentice, has accepted a challenge from CEO Marc Benioff to create 5 million apprenticeships over five years.

Now, as part of a weeklong apprenticeship push, he is visiting Waukesha County Technical College in Wisconsin on Tuesday with his daughter Ivanka as well as Acosta and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

"Apprenticeships are going to be a big, big factor in our country," Trump said during his first-ever full Cabinet meeting on Monday. "There are millions of good jobs that lead to great careers, jobs that do not require a four-year degree or the massive debt that often comes with those four-year degrees and even two-year degrees."

Many employers and economists — and Republicans and Democrats — welcome the idea of apprenticeships as a way to train people with specific skills for particular jobs that employers say they can't fill at 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. But the Trump administration, like President Barack Obama's, says 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 Obama's Commerce Department found that "apprenticeships are not fully understood in the US, 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.

"There aren't enough people to fill the jobs and the people applying don't have the skills necessary," said Conor Smyth, spokesman for the Wisconsin Technical College System, where President and Ivanka Trump, Acosta and Walker were visiting.
That's where apprenticeship comes in.

Participants get on-the-job training while going to school, sometimes with companies footing the bill. IBM, for example, participates in a six-year programme 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 programme — 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.

Democratic US Senator Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin, 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.

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2017 08:44 AM

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