Is the Trump Administration About to Solve the ‘no Experience, No Job' Conundrum?

When Donald Trump headlined The Apprentice, we never thought that a reality television show could be the basis for a practical workforce development policy.Apprenticeship programs are available to a tiny portion of the U.S. workforce, mostly skilled, unioned trades. But apprenticeship programs also carry a stigma as a route to nonprestigious jobs and the refuge of people who can’t make it in college.This kind of outdated thinking is costing workers and the economy. Not everyone wants to go to college, or wants to graduate with staggering student loan debt. Plus, white-collar workers could also benefit from on-the-job training to upgrade skills and open employment doors that an apprenticeship would provide.For these reasons, the Trump administration’s plan to dramatically expand the scope of apprenticeship programs is intriguing. First, it would reduce the federal government’s overbearing bureaucratic micromanagement of apprenticeship training programs, always a good thing. But best yet, industries would have more flexibility to determine how best to train their workers.If you wonder why this matters, consider this: In April there were 1.6 million more unfilled U.S. jobs than unemployed Americans. In gambling parlance, this is the equivalent of leaving money on the table, and in an economic lexicon, the equivalent of an economy that is churning below peak possibilities.It strikes us that this labor-skills gap, the largest since 2000, can be narrowed if more potential workers had better routes to obtain relevant skills and experience quickly. Private industry responds to market demand quicker than government mandates. Job markets today can go from hot to cold overnight, and government agencies calling the shots on training rules can’t be flexible enough to accommodate dynamic change. Under the president’s proposal, companies, trade groups, unions and others would have greater flexibility to set industry-recognized apprenticeship program standards most crucial to their industry. Training, structure, curriculum and classroom hours, much of which is mandated by federal or state labor agencies now, would be left up to the industries on the front lines.Who knows best the work skills that specific industries need, the federal government or those industries? We’re betting it is industry, not the federal government.The bulk of jobs in the U.S. are private-sector service occupations where few apprenticeship programs exist. Companies, including traditional white-collar businesses, are exploring their versions of apprenticeship universities to get workers the skills these industries covet. We’ve seen evidence of this mismatch of skills and workers locally. Despite the regional job market outpacing the nation for the past decade, companies say they can't find the workers they need for plenty of openings for middle-skill jobs that require more than a high school education but not necessarily a college degree.The United States spends less on worker training than most developed countries. The mishmash of government rules here amounts to an anvil on program effectiveness, which has prompted companies to take charge of training programs. The Commerce Department estimates that apprenticeships cost companies between $25,000 and $250,000 a year, but that the return on the investment is worth it. Workers get hands-on experience, and company-run programs are likely to reduce worker turnover, a major corporate expense. Establishing an industry-specific standard for training as the Trump administration urges could further reduce training costs. The impact of this philosophical change rests with how the program rolls out. But this much is certain: Our nation needs a vibrant, skilled workforce and a training system that unleashes the creativity of the private sector to determine what skills are needed to compete globally and will produce talent in a timely fashion.As a whole, government-run worker training programs have outlived their usefulness. It is time for the nation to look at new ways to produce workers who can contribute to the economy. The private sector has proved that it can solve market supply-and-demand imbalances if given an opportunity. And that opportunity should come now.   Continue reading...

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