President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday that will increase apprenticeship funding to $200 million and give the private sector more influence in designing apprenticeship programs, with the unofficial goal of creating 5 million apprenticeships in the next five years, according to the Associated Press.
Last year, according to the Department of Labor, apprenticeships totaled a little more than 500,000, with roughly 50% of those in the construction industry.
The funding for Trump's plan would come from existing DOL job training funds, but critics point out that Trump's proposed 2018 budget would cut the DOL's training and employment services by 21%, according to Time, as well as other workforce programs. The budget also cuts $1 million in women's training programs, but the administration said that will be made up in this broader apprenticeship initiative.
The Associated Builders and Contractors lauded the announcement Thursday and said the measures outlined in the executive order would help the construction industry with skills training and help eliminate a 500,000-worker shortage.
One controversial aspect of the executive order is the fact that Trump does not require apprenticeship programs to be registered with the DOL, which currently sets program parameters and certifies them to make sure they're in compliance and provide quality training and education. Oversight of unregistered programs, critics say, could result in some sham offerings.
Administration officials said there are unique training requirements for each industry, and the private sector could be better positioned than the DOL to develop industry-specific apprenticeship programs.
If the program is successful in creating more skilled workers, it would certainly come as a welcome relief to the construction industry. According to an Associated General Contractors of America survey, 73% of companies anticipate hiring new workers this year, but 73% also said they anticipate difficulty in doing so.
Earlier this month, when the president revealed more details about his $1 trillion infrastructure plan, he said he wanted to create at least 1 million new apprenticeship positions in the next two years. This, as well as the order, was most likely in response to industry concerns about how such an ambitious program would further stress the limited skilled-labor pool.