President Trump is clearly controversial. However, all Americans should be able to unite in support of his effort to strengthen our skilled workforce.
The United States is facing a crucial workforce skills gap. Historically, the U.S. workforce was stronger, especially after World War II. However, a skills gap began to grow in the decades that followed, mainly due to negative perceptions from vast job losses due to offshoring and an emphasis on university over technical education. Recently, President Trump signed two executive orders to strengthen and realign the U.S. workforce. A skilled workforce is essential to manufacturing, economic growth, and balancing the trade and budget deficits.
Work has changed dramatically due to new technologies, such as additive manufacturing, automation and robotics. Employing these new technologies is critical to U.S. global competitiveness. A mismatch between the skills of unemployed or underemployed workers and the skills required by 21st century businesses is growing. A larger workforce with better- aligned skills is needed.
Apprenticeships can be an important tool in training the workforce of tomorrow. However, the number of apprentices turned out by an outdated U.S. apprenticeship program is not enough to meet even today’s demand. Skilled workforce availability is the No. 1 issue in site selection and the growth of U.S. manufacturing. The problem is compounded by low unemployment and the growth in manufacturing employment. For companies to succeed at reshoring and foreign direct investment (FDI), there must be a workforce available with the skillsets to operate new equipment and production processes. Reshoring and FDI are absorbing almost all of the net growth in manufacturing employment. The rate of reshoring and FDI will surely decline rapidly from 2017’s 171,000 job announcements if we do not accelerate training.
On June 15, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order, “Expanding Apprenticeships in America.” This order called for the Labor secretary to create a task force to identify strategies and proposals to promote apprenticeships in America. Representatives from companies, labor unions, trade associations, educational institutions and public agencies, including the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, a Reshoring Initiative sponsor, participated to create a proposal for new industryrecognized apprenticeships.
The task force recommended four policies to expand apprenticeships in America.
Education and credentialing. This will ensure more workers are able to enroll and complete apprenticeships; increase consistency of technical instruction; make technical instruction more affordable for apprentices and employers; and set standards that are nationally portable and industry- recognized for quality and accountability.
Attracting businesses to start apprenticeships. These are actions that industry and government can take to encourage more employers to start apprenticeships.
Expanding access, equity and career awareness. This will reduce stigmatization of non-college pathways; broaden awareness of how manufacturing careers provide family-sustaining wages; and expand access and ensure equal opportunities for apprenticeships.
Administrative and regulatory strategies to expand apprenticeship. The task force outlines a structure for a new apprenticeship program; the process for identifying high-quality programs; and guidelines for ensuring that industry-recognized apprenticeships meet industry-relevant quality standards.
In July 2018, President Trump signed an executive order establishing the National Council for the American Worker and the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board. The board will offer expertise and advice for smart policy development, while the council will create a national campaign to promote investment in the nation’s workforce.