A Nation of Apprentices

According to U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, only 3 percent of the American workforce are apprenticeship graduates. But if President Trump’s new apprenticeship program delivers as promised, that number will soon be a lot higher.

Indeed, the Trump administration is now focused on getting universities and private companies to pair up and pay the cost of such learn-to-earn arrangements., according to the Washington Post, which noted that the president has accepted a challenge from Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff to create 5 million apprenticeships over five years.

“Our program will be geared toward all industries and all jobs,” Acosta said during a White House press briefing Monday. “The point here is to foster private-private partnerships between industry and educational institutions … so that when [students leave the program] they have the skills necessary to enter the workforce,”

President Trump also spoke about the need for a more robust apprenticeship program during his first full Cabinet meeting on Monday: “Apprenticeships are going to be a big, big factor in our country. 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 on both sides of the aisle 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, according to the Post piece, which notes the most recent budget for the federal government passed with about $90 million for apprenticeships, and Trump so far isn’t proposing adding more.

More from the Post:

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 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.

George Brooks, leader of People Advisory Services at Ernst & Young, applauds the decision to focus on apprenticeships.

“Apprenticeship programs look like a win-win solution for employers, employees and society,” he says, before adding that companies must play their part.

“What resonates beyond the announced apprenticeship program is the need for companies we work with to fill many new types of jobs that will be in heavy demand, such as cyber, drone management, robotics management, etc., that are growing too quickly to wait for four-year STEM students to graduate or for older workers to go back to school,” Brooks says. “By the time these people have the traditional degree, technology will have evolved even further. That workforce challenge is why we see leading organizations starting their own training-apprenticeship-mentoring programs, thus building their own future workforce.”