President Trump today signed an Executive Order aimed at increasing the availability of apprenticeship programs. The order instructs a number of federal agencies to promote the growth of apprenticeships and make related federal programs more effective.
Community colleges have long played a substantial role in sponsoring and providing the educational component of registered apprenticeship programs. AACC worked closely with the Department of Labor (DOL) to help establish the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium, which facilitates agreements between colleges and apprenticeship sponsors. Apprenticeship is a valuable means to connect workers with well-paying jobs, and community colleges support expanding this concept into a broader array of industries beyond the skilled trades where it is most prominent today. Community colleges are pleased that the Executive Order specifically directed the Department of Education to help support community colleges to incorporate apprentice programs into their courses of study.
The Executive Order seeks to increase the reach of apprenticeships by proposing new regulations that would allow third-party organizations to develop apprenticeships, outside of the registered apprenticeship apparatus. The new regulations would govern how these groups, which would include trade and industry organizations, companies, unions and others, would recognize and oversee so-called industry-recognized apprenticeships. The idea behind any such new regulations would be to limit what some perceive as excessive red-tape in the registered apprenticeship program. However, registered apprenticeship exists largely to ensure that apprenticeships meet certain quality criteria, including progressive wage increases and the provision of a nationally-recognized credential at the end of the process. Therefore, any expansion of apprenticeships must ensure the unique characteristics that differentiate apprenticeship from other forms of workforce training. The order calls on DOL to use existing funds at its disposal for the proposed expansion, including those generated by H-1B visa user fees, essentially building on the $95 million program that is already in place. The order does not specify a particular dollar amount, but reports indicate that this could result in an additional $100 million for apprenticeship grants.
The order creates a multi-agency Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. It also directs each federal agency to submit to the Office of Management and Budget, along with their FY 2019 budget proposals, information on any job training programs within the agency, including evaluations of the program and any recommended changes to the program, including elimination. This could potentially impact a variety of programs of interest to community colleges.
It is important to note that the federal funds that support apprenticeships are a small portion of the resources dedicated to workforce development overall. Although it is not labeled as such, the Pell Grant program is the biggest workforce program in the federal budget. The President’s FY 2018 budget request proposed deep cuts to a number of targeted workforce development programs, including a 40% reduction to the core programs authorized under Title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, as well as a 16% reduction to the Carl D. Perkins Act. AACC is vigorously opposing these cuts and is hopeful that they will not be enacted by Congress.