The Labor Department is enlisting the help of corporate executives, labor unions and governors to develop its policy of expanding the use of apprenticeships in the U.S.
The department announced 23 members of the president's apprenticeship task force on Monday, charging them with crafting a plan to expand use of the training strategy that is popular in Europe but little used is most U.S. industries.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order in June making apprenticeships a cornerstone of his strategy to address a shortage of skilled workers.
“Expanding apprenticeships will help Americans learn the skills they need to fill jobs that are open right now and in the future,” Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said. Members of the task force “will provide varied perspectives that will help guide the administration's strategy on growing apprenticeship programs nationwide.”
Employers that use apprentices like the programs because they train future workers for specific, in-demand jobs. Apprentices earn a paycheck while they train, often eliminating the need to take on debt to fund their education.
Upon completion of a training program, 90% of apprentices are offered jobs and earn a starting salary of about $60,000 a year, according to the Labor Department. Yet undergraduate students at colleges outnumber apprentices in the U.S. 26 to 1.
Apprenticeships have struggled to take hold in the U.S. in part because the education system is geared more toward college preparation, than, for example, in Germany, where teens are more frequently steered toward a vocation. And American students and families are often reluctant to pursue careers in fields such as plumbing or manufacturing, even if those jobs pay good wages.
Task force members include corporate executives—Dow Chemical Co. Chief Executive Andrew Liveris, Northrop Grumman Chief Executive Wesley Bush and Manpower- Group Director Cari Dominguez—as well as leaders of several Washington trade groups that represent business interests. Three labor leaders are also members.
The White House has directed the Labor Department to allow companies, trade associations and unions to develop their own apprenticeship- program guidelines. This task force would help create guidance for that. In June, administration officials said the government would generally take a lighter touch with such industry-led programs than it does with registered apprentice programs, which have existed for decades.
Unions traditionally have supported Democrats, but the Labor Department has sought to reach out to these groups on workforce training. Nearly half the apprentices in the U.S. work in the construction sector, and most of them are trained by trade unions.