First Thoughts on Trump’s Apprenticeship Order

By on July 14, 2017

From New America:  On June 15, President Trump released his Executive Order on apprenticeship. The core feature of the administration’s action is to call for the establishment of a new class of “industry-recognized apprenticeships.” While there aren’t a lot of details, the proposal is certain to generate confusion and raise serious questions about the quality and consistency of apprenticeship programs. It also envisions a larger role for “third party” organizations in apprenticeship.

But is oversight the right role for such groups? Do we need a new category of apprenticeship? Here’s what we know so far:

ADDING NOISE TO AN ALREADY COMPLEX LANDSCAPE

If the question of registered versus un-registered apprenticeships weren’t enough, an administration seemingly intent on reducing duplication in government programs now wants to introduce a new category of “industry-recognized” apprenticeships. That’s bound to sow confusion in a field that is already deeply fragmented, and characterized more by a patchwork of programs than a true national system. The high degree of fragmentation is already a problem for employers who need to make high-stakes business decisions, and for prospective apprentices who need to make important choices about their lives. Standing up yet another apprenticeship system will only add to the confusion.

UNDERMINING CONSISTENCY AND QUALITY

The one constant in the American apprenticeship landscape is the registration process. Administered by federal and state governments, all registered programs share core common elements including paid, on-the-job training with a mentor, progressive wage increases, and related classroom instruction. They also ensure apprentices have access to certain labor protections. That’s why all registered programs culminate in a portable, national credential that’s recognized across entire industries.

But today’s Executive Order offered a new definition for apprenticeship, and it’s unclear how “industry-recognized” apprenticeships will connect to today’s registered system. That’s notable because registration, much as it might be improved, is the only mechanism the government has to assure the basic quality of apprenticeship programs.

Registration is important for ensuring that employers and apprentices are each holding up their end of the bargain, and also for measuring how many apprentices are out there, and how effective their programs are. In the past few days, and in the president’s speech at the Order’s signing, the administration has taken to touting the average $60,000 yearly salary for apprentices. We only know that’s true for registered apprentices, and we wouldn’t know it at all if their apprenticeships weren’t registered.

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