Trump wants 4.5 million new apprenticeships in five years — with nearly the same budget

Donald Trump wants to blow out the number of apprentices working for U.S. companies — but it doesn’t look like he’ll spend the money to do it.

Apprenticeships blend on-the-job work with paid classroom instruction, and they usually last between two and six years. The federal government has regulated and certified apprenticeships since 1937, but the jobs were not actively promoted by modern presidencies until the Obama administration.

Now, President Trump wants the number of apprenticeships to skyrocket to 5 million under his administration, which would be almost 10 times the total that exist now. But the money he has appropriated to apprenticeships is roughly the same as it was under Obama. The budget for fiscal year 2016 appropriated $90 million for apprenticeships; that number is set to increase only to $95 million as part of Congress’ omnibus budget for 2017.

President Donal Trump (R) and his daughter Ivanka (L) chairs a a workforce development roundtable discussion at Waukesha County Technical College during his visit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 13, 2017.

Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images
President Donal Trump (R) and his daughter Ivanka (L) chairs a a workforce development roundtable discussion at Waukesha County Technical College during his visit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 13, 2017.

“Just because something’s a good thing doesn’t mean you can have it,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“You can’t grow tomatoes in the desert. The bottom line on America is, it requires enormous expenditures and regulation of employers, and that ain’t gonna happen.”-Anthony Carnevale, Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce

Most of the cost of apprenticeships is borne by employers, with the government taking a regulatory role. But the administration has provided few details on how it will create exponential gains with roughly the same amount of federal spending.

“You can’t grow tomatoes in the desert,” Carnevale said. “The bottom line on America is, it requires enormous expenditures and regulation of employers, and that ain’t gonna happen” under President Trump.

The Department of Labor did not respond to requests for comment on whether the Trump administration still aims to create 5 million apprenticeships by 2022. In remarks on Monday, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta avoided details on how the plan to increase the number of apprenticeships.

US Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta speaks during the briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on June 12, 2017.

Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images
US Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta speaks during the briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on June 12, 2017.

The president may reveal more when he speaks about the “Apprenticeship and Workforce of Tomorrow” program at the White House on Thursday.

“Getting from 500,000 to 5 million?” said Robert Schwartz, senior research fellow of educational policy at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “This is the typical kind of Trump looseness with the facts.”

Challenge from Salesforce.com’s Benioff

Marc Benioff, co-founder and chief executive officer of Salesforce.com Inc., center, arrives to a news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, not pictured, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, March 17, 2017.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Marc Benioff, co-founder and chief executive officer of Salesforce.com Inc., center, arrives to a news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, not pictured, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, March 17, 2017.

President Trump appeared to commit in March to Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff’s challenge at a White House CEO roundtable to “take a moonshot goal to create 5 million apprenticeships in the next five years.”

“Let’s do that — let’s go for that 5 million,” Trump responded.

To achieve that goal, his administration would need to increase the current number of active apprenticeships in the U.S. almost 10-fold — from 505,371 in the last quarter of 2016, according to the Department of Labor — in just five years.

The Trump administration’s position is in some ways a continuation of the Obama administration’s effort to revive apprenticeships across industries. The number of apprenticeships grew substantially under Obama, from roughly 350,000 in 2010 to more than half a million today.

“The Obama administration said, ‘Hey, it’s a great model with great outcomes, let’s expand it,'” said Eric Seleznow, who was the deputy assistant secretary to the Department of Labor during Obama’s presidency. “And that’s exactly what they did.”

While most experts agree that more apprenticeships would be a good thing for the economy, the Trump administration’s budget proposals in recent months — including a 40 percent cut to job training programs and a 21 percent cut to the Department of Labor — leave cause for concern among apprenticeship advocates.

“It’s an aspirational goal,” Seleznow said, referring to the 5 million-apprenticeship target. “I don’t think it’s feasible.”

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