June 19, 2017 – Reprint from CLASP (Center for Law and Social Policy), a national, nonpartisan, anti-poverty organization advancing policy solutions that work for low-income people.
On June 15, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) meant to “expand apprenticeships in America.” Under the current system, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and state apprenticeship agencies register all apprenticeship programs. However, this EO proposes to decentralize the registration of apprenticeships to enable third parties—including a variety of corporate, nonprofit, trade groups, or other entities—to independently register or recognize apprenticeships. The implementation of this EO is likely to expand apprenticeship programs while potentially damaging the integrity and reputation of the current system and diminishing the value of this important earn-while-you-learn program to workers seeking to gain greater skills and improve their economic opportunities.
The current federal-state apprenticeship system in the United States was established through the National Apprenticeship Act of 1937. The primary purpose of the Act was to “promote the furtherance of labor standards necessary to safeguard the welfare of apprentices.” DOL regulations set the framework for registered apprenticeships and require equal employment opportunity standards. President Trump’s EO does not include any guarantee that the new “industry-recognized” apprenticeships will uphold the current job quality and equal opportunity standards for the program. These standards include delineating the type and structure of the training, form of supervision, terms of employment, and health and safety requirements. The EO also does not mention any requirements—as currently codified—that apprentices receive wage increases as they achieve milestones, such as the development of skills and competencies or time spent in on-the-job training. Furthermore, the EO does not specify that graduates of this new program will receive a nationally recognized credential that is portable among employers within an industry, a hallmark of the current Registered Apprenticeship system.