A Job Training Initiative The Trump Administration Should Support

The following post was written by Jonathan Hasak, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs at Coalition organization Year Up, a national nonprofit organization with 18 sites across the country. A Job Training Initiative The Trump Administration Should Support was originally published in the Forbes Grads of Life Voice on June 14, 2017.

Donald Trump was elected president, in part, because of his success at speaking to the indignity that many working-class Americans felt – the “forgotten men and women” he spoke of in his inaugural address. And yet little of his presidency so far has been spent promoting work-based education programs that can provide Americans the skills they need to succeed in today’s labor market.

So it’s welcome news to hear that the Trump Administration will be touting apprenticeships today in Wisconsin.

To be clear, the American education and workforce systems are increasingly out of touch with employers’ needs and out of reach for young adults.  And the cost is not trivial.  Failing to support Opportunity Youth, the nearly six million young adults not in school or in work, costs taxpayers around $93 billion per year, while millions more Americans are disconnected from jobs, cut off from employment opportunities, and further removed from achieving the American Dream.  Employers face a number of challenges as well, such as a lack of workers to grow their businesses and increased spending on training.

In order to spur job creation, transform opportunity for young adults, and close the skills gap employers continue to cite, the president should direct his White House Office of American Innovation to develop a Dignity of Work Initiative – a competitive job training grant program.

These competitive grants would provide private sector funding to regions in the country that would recruit Opportunity Youth and offer them free training at community colleges to prepare them for local in-demand middle-skills jobs.  Employers would help design curriculum and collaborate with effective training providers such as Year Up, a national direct service program that connects low-income young adults with livable-wage careers in high-growth industries in a single year.

A Dignity of Work Initiative would influence training programs across the country to become more effective at preparing any American for jobs by demonstrating the need for public funding to be driven towards market-based practices and programs aligned to employer demand.

Just as President Obama’s Race to the Top program incentivized states to change their education policies when applying for funds, this competitive grant program would incentivize regional workforce development boards to become more accountable for producing market-based outcomes.  As a result, employment outcomes – not compliance provisions – would become the metric used to negotiate training provider contracts and the basis for awarding any public funding in the future.

Equally important, a Dignity of Work Initiative would expand access to job training at our community colleges – a post-secondary system with substantial investment in work-based learning.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff deserves credit for encouraging President Trump to embrace a moonshot apprenticeship goal of retraining five million Americans disconnected from the labor market.  But with only 505,000 apprentices currently enrolled in Labor Department-registered programs, getting to five million apprenticeships will require a level of commitment and investment from our federal government and America’s C-suites that has been largely absent.

To accelerate employer commitment, the Dignity of Work Initiative could launch a national hiring campaign focused on mobilizing employers to partner with a spectrum of proven work-based education programs such as apprenticeships.  Given that over two-thirds of job openings in this country created by 2020 will not require a bachelor’s degree, this campaign would expand employment opportunities for Americans without a bachelor’s degree – a key constituency of the president’s base – and increase the likelihood of this administration reaching its lofty moonshot goal.

To be sure, such a competitive grant program would not be able to serve every young adult out of work and out of school.  Greater federal investment would eventually be needed – something that seems politically untenable at the moment.  But it’s important to remember that for all the talk in the White House about importing the widely acclaimed German apprenticeship model, Germany spends significantly more than the United States does on apprenticeships.

In other words, doing more with less money, as some administration officials have recently suggested, is not going to cut it.

Despite the intense partisanship that is consuming our country, we should never forget that we live in a country that once viewed investments in Americans as our national prerogative.  Indeed, every administration since the Progressive Era has sought to stimulate communities and create more jobs through the promise of tax breaks to businesses; subsidizing of job opportunities; infrastructure, tax, and housing incentives; and the leveraging of resources the private economy has to offer.

A Dignity of Work Initiative that offers a hand up to Opportunity Youth and provides new talent pipelines to businesses is not just sound politics.  It’s a recipe for smart policy.

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