With college costs on the rise and job growth in decline, the legislative and executive branches appear to be united in an effort to bridge the skills gap and prepare students and young people to enter the workforce through a greater use of apprenticeship programs. Although U.S. apprenticeships have traditionally focused on manual labor skills, the U.S. has been eyeing European models in countries such as Germany and Switzerland that have impressively low youth unemployment rates, due largely in part to their successful apprenticeship programs in white-collar professions.
The day after senators introduced a bill garnering support from both parties to promote apprenticeship programs, President Trump signed an executive order (EO) declaring:
“It shall be the policy of the Federal Government to provide more affordable pathways to secure, high paying jobs by promoting apprenticeships and effective workforce development programs, while easing the regulatory burden on such programs and reducing or eliminating taxpayer support for ineffective workforce development programs.”
Called “Expanding Apprenticeships in America,” the EO states that the Department of Labor (DOL) is to create a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion to identify ways to promote apprenticeships and develop strategies for encouraging private-sector involvement. The DOL is to use “available funding" to carry out this directive.
Along with these government initiatives, investing in workforce readiness will take combined efforts of employers and educational institutions. Advocates of the apprentice initiative include community colleges and franchise businesses who say that apprenticeships are the perfect way to address the shortage of skilled workers across all industries and to reduce the nation's overwhelming student debt. Employers who are on the fence about investing in such programs should consider the likely long-term benefits, including reduced employee turnover and increased labor quality and productivity. As even more incentive, the proposed legislation seeks to provide employers that participate in state or federal apprenticeship programs with a tax credit of up to $5,000 per individual based on wages.