Jun 16, 2017 - 8:00am

Let’s Reinvent Apprenticeship in America 


Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an Apprenticeship and Workforce of Tomorrow initiatives. Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Bloomberg

Yesterday, President Trump announced his administration’s focus on apprenticeship. The President signed an executive order putting in place plans to:

  1. Streamline the federally registered apprenticeship system to make it less burdensome to employers,
  2. Develop new industry recognized apprenticeship pathways and programs, and
  3. Launch a task force to help guide the administration’s efforts to modernize and reinvent apprenticeship in America.

Each of these efforts is designed to help put America back to work again and support a growing economy that is in dire need of a skilled, competitive workforce.

While workforce development initiatives are pretty normal for any new administration, this plan is different. It is not another federal expenditure and rebranding of a traditional workforce program; and it is not a proliferation of government programs and regulations that rob employers and job seekers of their agency and choice in a dynamic and free labor market.

Instead, what the Trump administration is proposing is bold, and with it comes the potential for completely reinventing postsecondary education, training, and credentialing in America for the better.

This transformative vision would give the business community the space and incentive to organize and lead their own workforce solutions. Rather than proliferating grants and partnerships that are designed to solve this problem on behalf of employers, this initiative provides an opportunity to explore employer-led solutions for designing and implementing career pathways. This is something the Chamber and Chamber Foundation have been advocating for some time.

This vision is enough to activate a conversation with the business community to explore how to recognize alternative work and learn models while managing and ensuring quality. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has already been hard at work partnering with employers and communities across the country to stand up grassroots, employer-led partnerships through its Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) initiative. As part of the TPM movement, the Chamber Foundation has proposed a new employer-led quality assurance system to better signal which education and workforce programs are recognized or endorsed by the business community based on the standards they set across industries, within industries, and even at the employer level. Such a system can provide insights into how to make such an employer-led system work based on leading industry practices and standards.  

As this vision becomes reality, we should also be mindful of potential pitfalls. For example, we need to get the incentives right and make sure that employers see the value and the return on investment. Next, we need to make sure that any new system does not unintentionally expand regulations or increase risk and liability for participating companies. Last, the business community must make sure that any recognition system does not create conflicts of interest or produce administrative bloat and inefficiencies that take years if not decades to undo, all while generating negative sentiment and public opinion toward employer-led training.                                                                              

For now, we are excited by the direction the president is headed. The business community—and all Americans—would be well served to join the conversation, and we look forward to seeing where the conversation takes us next.

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About the Author

About the Author

Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Cheryl A. Oldham is vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is also senior vice president of the education and workforce program of the U.S.