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Thursday, June 29, 2017 12:14 am

Trump’s support for apprenticeships falls short

For some, the recent unveiling of President Trump’s Executive Order (EO) pledging to expand apprenticeships nationwide – programs that allow workers to “earn and learn” on the job – was a welcome action in keeping with his campaign promise to get millions of Americans back to work. Unfortunately, the EO itself and this administration’s actions so far are in direct conflict with the goal of expanding these programs. They fail to dismantle the historic and current inequities that prevent access to apprenticeship programs for millions of individuals.

Supporting pathways to employment and good jobs for every American who wants to work is win-win for individuals, families, businesses, communities and the entire nation. Doing so, however, requires resolve among a myriad of stakeholders, including the federal government, to uphold a commitment to equitable access to employment and programs that support career pathways.

Apprenticeship programs are often inaccessible for low-income individuals, women, individuals of color and those facing barriers to employment who would benefit the most from the opportunity to increase skills and income. Only 2.1 percent of apprenticeships were held by women in 2013. Analysis by the U.S. Department of Labor shows that apprenticeship programs are often less diverse than the occupations they ultimately serve. More often than not, women and people of color are overrepresented in the lowest-paying apprenticeship programs.

There could be several factors that contribute to inequitable access to apprenticeship programs – and there are a range of solutions. Workers facing barriers to employment may lack the needed skills to enter apprenticeship programs and could benefit from pre-apprenticeship programs that offer adult basic education and training. For workers with a spotty work history, pathways into apprenticeships through subsidized employment may be valuable, like those programs found in Chicago and elsewhere. And for workers who are juggling the multiple demands of family and work obligations, robust support services like affordable child care or transportation may make participating in apprenticeship programs feasible.

More insidious is that discrimination contributes significantly to inequities faced by workers of color and women attempting to access apprenticeship programs which requires upholding and enforcing affirmative action plans in apprenticeship program recruitment, training and hiring practices.

The paradox of President Trump’s Executive Order is that the EO language and this administration’s actions are in direct conflict with the goal of expanding apprenticeship programs. First, the EO itself does not include any guarantee that the new “industry-recognized” apprenticeships will uphold the current job quality and equal opportunity standards for the program. Trump’s overall commitment to reducing government regulation calls into question the degree to which current, much less expanded, apprenticeship programs will be held accountable to equitable recruitment, training and hiring practices. In addition, Trump’s FY18 budget proposal calls for gutting funding for workforce and education programs and a myriad of other supports that directly benefit and contribute to the success of the very same workers who are often denied access to apprenticeship programs.

Will President Trump’s apprenticeship pledge benefit those who could benefit the most? The reality is that his actions and those of this administration will ultimately speak louder than words on a page.

Melissa Young is director of Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty and Economic Opportunity in Chicago. She may be contacted at myoung@heartlandalliance.org.

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