President Trump put a spotlight Thursday on his administration’s efforts to broaden the reach of private-sector apprenticeship programs, part of an effort to close a “skills gap” that the White House says is leaving millions of jobs unfilled.
Trump signed an executive order that seeks to reorient and expand ApprenticeshipUSA, a grant program that was previously championed by the Obama administration and has been supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.
The administration’s aim, White House officials say, is to give more flexibility to third parties — including businesses, trade associations and labor unions — to design programs that will offer skills training to those who are seeking jobs for which they are not yet qualified.
Under current rules, the Labor Department is too heavy-handed in crafting the programs, they argue.
“We have regulations upon regulations, and in history nobody has gotten rid of so many regulations as the Trump administration,” the president said during an event in the Roosevelt Room. “So we're empowering these companies, these unions, industry groups, federal agencies to go out and create new apprenticeships for millions of our citizens.”
White House officials said Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump will also use “the bully pulpit” that the White House provides to encourage more businesses to create apprenticeship programs.
The administration is seeking to broaden the use of such programs beyond manufacturing to other sectors, including health care and accounting, the official said.
Trump wants to expand the program’s budget to about $200 million, roughly twice its existing level, by redirecting other money from the Labor Department, said a White House official, who briefed the media on the condition of anonymity ahead of Trump's announcement.
White House officials say they are seeking bipartisan support for their job-training initiative, a different tack than Trump has used in trying to push through marquee legislation on health care and tax reform.
In his yet-unrealized efforts to revamp the Affordable Care Act and cut taxes, Trump and congressional Republicans are trying to use a parliamentary maneuver that would allow them to pass bills without any Democratic buy-in. Nevertheless, Trump has decried Democrats as “obstructionists” to his initiatives.
Tuesday’s announcement drew mixed reactions from Democrats. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) accused the president of trying to “paper over” major cuts he has proposed to existing job training programs.
“Given the Trump administration’s history of lining the pockets of corporations and special interests at the expense of workers, it’s hard to see this as anything but another thinly veiled broken promise from the president who promised to put workers first, but has failed to do so since day one,” said Murray, the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
A group of almost two dozen administration officials, governors, lawmakers, dignitaries and apprentices stood behind the president as he spoke. He met with some of them behind closed doors before signing the executive order.
White House officials were quick to point to the presence of Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) as evidence of their efforts to contact Democrats about the issue.
After the ceremony, a half-dozen governors — all Republicans — emerged on the White House grounds to talk to reporters and talk up Trump’s efforts.
“We very much appreciate his focus today,” Said Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), who hosted Trump in his state on Tuesday for another event related to workforce development.
Trump’s action also drew praise from several industry associations, including the National Restaurant Association.
“The restaurant industry fully supports the president’s executive order,” said Dawn Sweeney, the group’s president and chief operating officer, who called apprenticeships “a proven recognized path to full and rewarding careers.”
Last year, the Obama administration trumpeted its efforts to expand apprenticeship programs, including $90 million secured in the budget for ApprenticeshipUSA through a bipartisan agreement.
“Apprenticeships are among the surest pathways to provide American workers from all backgrounds with the skills and knowledge they need to acquire good-paying jobs and grow the economy,” the Obama administration said in a news release at the time.
The executive order Trump signed Thursday establishes a task force to recommend ways to promote apprenticeships and directs the Labor Department to evaluate the effectiveness of its various job-training programs.
Trump spent 14 seasons as host of the NBC reality show “The Apprentice,” and administration officials have sought to play that down in selling this initiative.
The apprenticeship expansion was rolled out as part of what the White House has dubbed “workforce development week.” That’s part of a broader effort to show that Trump remains focused on his policy agenda despite cascading headlines about investigations of his campaign’s ties to Russia and the possibilities of obstruction of justice.
Trump had planned to sign the executive order on apprenticeships during a trip to the Labor Department on Wednesday, but that visit was canceled after a shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va.