When President Donald Trump met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House in March, he lavished praise on her country for its wildly successful apprenticeship program that helps keeps its workforce up to date.
“For decades, Germany has been a model for highly successful apprenticeship — that’s a name I like, ‘apprentice’ — apprenticeship programs,” he said in trademark Trump fashion, giving a nod to one of his franchises, the reality show on NBC. “As a result, Germany’s youth unemployment rate is much lower than many of the other countries, especially the EU countries.”
Trump has acknowledged the skills gap that exists in the American labor force, and the CEOs that visit him in the Oval Office often remind him that they have jobs to fill and can’t find the workers to fill them.
According to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s own testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning, there are about 6.9 million Americans looking for work and some 6 million current job openings in the United States.
And that is precisely why, one by one, members of Congress hammered Acosta for contradicting rhetoric with the priorities the administration is pursuing.
The Trump budget proposal and the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) effort to reorganize the federal government targets workforce training programs as an area ripe for deep cuts.
Even as the unemployment rate stands at 4.3 percent — its lowest in more than 16 years — the Trump administration has deemed some of the job training programs that do exist as ineffective.
“I find it perplexing that as you advocate to address the skills gap, your budget slashes $2.3 billion from job training,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) was one of several members who needled Acosta over the budget cuts to funding for apprenticeships, telling him he must not have been told how successful they have been.
Overall, government-backed programs helped place about 55 million Americans in jobs from mid-2008 to mid-2015, according to department data. From mid-2015 to mid-2016, 13.2 million Americans landed jobs following their participation in those programs.
The Trump team, though, has balked at the sheer number of programs across the federal government.
“The number I have always stuck in my head is we have 43 different workforce training programs spread across at least 13 different agencies,” OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters recently.
Several high-ranking officials who served in the Labor Department during the Obama administration pointed out that each of those programs serves a different constituency, like Native Americans, veterans, seniors, disadvantaged youth, and dislocated workers.
The budget as proposed stands no real chance of passing, but the debate over the approach to develop the workforce is just beginning.