The Trump administration is closing out national “Workforce Development Week” with an executive order that undermines quality apprenticeships across the country. Apprenticeships are a growing workforce development strategy that combine education and paid on-the-job training in specialized trades. The Obama administration committed to growing a skilled workforce by investing $265 million in apprenticeship programs with the goals of expanding apprenticeships into new industries and integrating programs into state education and workforce systems, among others. But the current administration’s new executive order (EO) threatens these efforts by loosening the federal definition of apprenticeship programs. The Center for American Progress released its analysis of the new EO. Here is an excerpt:
- So-called industry-certified apprenticeship programs would undermine quality apprenticeshipsUndermines the definition of apprenticeship. The executive order defines an apprenticeship as an “arrangement that includes a paid-work component and an educational or instructional component, wherein an individual obtains workplace-relevant knowledge and skills,” a major departure from the existing federal definition, which is much more specific regarding the structure of on-the-job training, and the wage schedule.
- Undermines quality assurance. According to the executive order, the secretary of labor could allow third parties broad discretion in how they ensure that these programs meet quality standards. It is unclear from the order whether those standards would be the existing federal standards, or new standards developed by the third party or by the DOL.
- Undermines wage requirements. The executive order only addresses wages to the extent that it acknowledges that an apprenticeship arrangement is paid. It does not address scheduled wage increases, meaning that workers enrolled in these programs may not be guaranteed a raise as their skills progress. Additionally, the new definition of apprenticeship offered by the executive order, coupled with the lack of clarity on wages and wage progression, makes it totally unclear whether apprentices would be classified as employees and paid at least minimum wage.
- Opens the door to federal funding without safeguards. As Registered Apprenticeships, these new programs—which would not necessarily have to adhere to existing federal standards—would also be eligible to access federal dollars through programs such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
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Victoria Crouse is a Public Policy Intern for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.