WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is making public-private apprenticeships his debut issue as President Donald Trump's point man on matching American workers with specific jobs.
"CEO after CEO has told me that they are eager to fill their vacancies, but they cannot find workers with the right skills," Acosta said Friday in remarks prepared for the labor ministers of the Group of 20 industrial and emerging-market nations gathered this week in Germany. Apprenticeships that pay salaries and often lead to careers, he added, "are a major priority for President Trump and the Department of Labor."
The declaration, and a new campaign of tweets on the subject, represent the first indication since Acosta's swearing-in three weeks ago that apprenticeships are at the core of the Trump administration's plans to train a new generation of workers.
The discussion of apprenticeships is a relatively new one for Trump, who campaigned for the White House on promises to restore manufacturing jobs that he said had been lost to flawed trade deals and unfair competition from China, Mexico and more.
But it's not new to policymakers of either party or the private sector, whose leaders have for years run apprenticeship programs. Some are modeled on those in such countries as Germany and the United Kingdom.
In a discussion in February, some of the two dozen CEOs gathered to discuss manufacturing jobs suggested there were still plenty of openings but too few qualified people to fill them. One executive said his company has 50 participants in a factory apprenticeship program, but could take 500 if enough were qualified.
Unemployment is historically low, but there are gaps in some sectors. Government figures show there are 324,000 open factory jobs nationwide — triple the number in 2009, during the depths of the recession.
At a White House round table discussion, some executives challenged Trump to generate a "moonshot" of five million new apprenticeships over five years.
There's also evidence of rare bipartisan agreement, at least on the value of apprenticeships, which generally combine state and federal government money with support from universities and companies looking to train people for specific jobs. In some cases, students split their time between school and work, and the companies pay some portion of wages and tuition.
The budget compromise funding the federal government through September passed this month with $95 million for apprenticeship grants, an increase of $5 million — in part to increase the number of women apprentices.