President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday that will cut back the federal government’s role in creating and monitoring apprenticeship programs, a move that the White House says will help fill vacant jobs.
The executive order, which Trump was expected to sign in conjunction with an 11 a.m. speech, is another anti-regulatory victory for business interests. It will move the role of developing government-funded apprenticeship programs from the Labor Department to third-party private entities — including trade groups, labor unions and businesses. The third parties will set their own bar for success and submit their metrics to the Labor Department for approval.
The order will also double the amount of money for apprenticeship grants, from $90 million to nearly $200 million a year. That’s in stark contrast to the president’s proposed budget, which would impose a 36 percent cut to Labor Department job training programs overall.
In a White House speech Thursday about the executive order, Trump said federal regulations “have prevented many different industries from creating apprenticeship programs” and boasted that “in history nobody has gotten rid of so many regulations as the Trump administration.”
Trump said that his executive order would empower companies, unions, industry groups and federal agencies to “create apprenticeships for millions of our citizens.”
Trump used the speech as an opportunity to tout economic growth, telling his audience that “ some very good numbers are going to be announced by the way in the very near future as to GDP.” The Commerce Department will release on June 29 its third and final estimate of GDP growth during the first quarter of 2017. Its second estimate put first-quarter GDP growth at a somewhat disappointing 1.2 percent.
Trump also said “a lot of plants are being expanded and big ones are going to be announced very soon.”
Trump’s aides said the executive order will make it easier for businesses to operate their own unique apprenticeship programs, cutting back red tape. But it will also hand over tens of millions of public dollars to businesses while reducing the government’s role in setting accountability standards.
“The Department of Labor to date has been very prescriptive and very restrictive on the apprenticeship programs, but the Department of Labor is not an expert as to various individual sectors and what the qualifications are,” a senior White House official said. “So we’re going to let the industry put forth its proposals as to what should make up a high-quality apprenticeship program. But the Department of Labor still sits over and above it and still adjudicates it at the end of the day.”
But Chris Lu, former deputy Labor secretary under former President Barack Obama, said on Twitter that the executive order “will remove gov’t oversight of apprenticeship standards, which will reduce quality.” Lu also said that the doubling of apprenticeship grants would require “a funding shift from other training programs” because the presidents 2018 funding request “is flat.”
“As Trump discusses job training,” Lu added, “consider his last foray into this area: Trump University. That worked out well.” During the transition Trump paid $25 million to settle fraud claims against the venture while maintaining his innocence.
Today’s executive order will direct agencies to review their job training programs, an administration official said, with the possible result that ineffective programs will be cut and the funds redirected toward apprenticeships.
White House officials also said they are working with Congress to allow students to use federal student aid for apprenticeship programs in addition to four-year universities.
“This is not in any way a negative comment on traditional four-year university education,” the White House official said. “What this is about is choice — that there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all education for the American worker, that there should be multiple pathways for workers to decide what is the best answer for them.”