Donald Trump to America: “You’re Hired”

Businessman Donald Trump gained fame as host of “The Apprentice,” where his line “You’re Fired” took on a pop culture life of its own. Now, as president, Trump is attempting to re-invigorate the United States’ apprenticeship model in an effort to get more employers saying “you’re hired.”

This week, President Trump will make the expansion of apprenticeship programs one of the cornerstones of his labor policy, hoping to close the “skills” gap that is leaving millions of job unfilled and reduce the number of young workers stuck in dead-end jobs. Rana Foroohar, writing for the Financial Times, breaks down the problem:

The US is suffering a youth unemployment crisis, with rates in double figures nearly 10 years on from the financial crisis — not to mention record levels of long-term unemployment, particularly among displaced older men in the rust belt. This was one driver of the populist politics that led to the election of Donald Trump and the popularity of Bernie Sanders among Democratic voters.

Yet more than 6m jobs remain unfilled. To get them, most workers will need a qualification between a high-school qualification and a costly four-year college education. There will be 55m job openings in the economy in the decade ending 2020, with 65 per cent of all jobs requiring some post-secondary education, projections by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University show.

Nearly two-thirds of those jobs will require some post-secondary education. But the majority of the fastest-growing categories will be those in the “sub-BA” market, which do not necessarily require a degree.

President Trump hopes to address this misalignment between jobs and higher education by reinvigorating the U.S. apprenticeship program, with a goal of doubling the current 500,000 apprenticeships, and eventually hitting 5 million.

The multi-faceted approach would expand the grant system called ApprenticeshipUSA to $200 million, roughly double its current budget. The White House will pay for the initiative by streamlining the more than 40 workforce development programs currently in existence across agencies, a convoluted system of competing priorities that hans’t produced results. The plan would also remove the government’s heavy handed approach to regulating apprenticeships, which has served to chill the private sector’s willingness to foster this unique educational path.

“We have regulations upon regulations, and in history nobody has gotten rid of so many regulations as the Trump administration,” the president said during an event in the Roosevelt Room. “So we’re empowering these companies, these unions, industry groups, federal agencies to go out and create new apprenticeships for millions of our citizens.”

Apprenticeships have long been misunderstood, and thus overlooked as a realistic option for many young adults. They’ve often been thought to be a historic anachronism that made sense in the 1800s, when opportunities for higher education were scarce, or believed to be only suited for blue collar occupations with little future in a knowledge economy. As a result, young adults have often felt pushed to attend four year colleges, where they too often collect mounds of debt, but no marketable skills.

But the automation of traditional “knowledge” jobs, combined with a dramatic need among employers for skilled workers, has created a serious problem that apprenticeships can solve. Nicholas Wyman, writing for Fortune, explains why they represent a good deal for all involved:

This typically three- or four-year endeavor allows the apprentice to acquire new skills under the watchful eyes of a trained mentor. One or two days each week are dedicated to classwork at a local community college or technical school, but no college debt is accrued. Better still, apprentices earn while they learn, and most (90%) are gainfully employed by the conclusion of their apprenticeship. How many four-year college students can say the same?

Apprenticeships are sound business investments. A recent Canadian study of over 1,000 employers across more than a dozen different fields found a net return of 47 cents for every dollar invested in apprenticeship training. Even government is a winner when it supports apprenticeships. Every $1 government invests in apprenticeships generates $27 in economic growth.

Young workers win. Employers win. The economy wins. Everyone wins. And while that would have made for a terribly boring episode of The Apprentice, it makes for a fantastic policy as president.