Trump’s Budget Poised to Reignite Apprenticeship Funding Debate
The Trump administration must overcome a partisan divide to secure Fiscal 2021 funding for a new apprenticeship program that would train workers in emerging industries by transferring government oversight to companies, trade groups, and unions.
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
- Bid to fund new job-training model faces partisan hurdle
- Industry enthusiasm waning amid funding uncertainties
The White House’s upcoming budget proposal may again seek funding to launch President Donald Trump’s industry-led apprenticeship model, but a growing political divide over the initiative is threatening congressional efforts to bankroll it and dampening enthusiasm from the business community.
The Trump administration has requested $160 million and $200 million for the last two fiscal years, respectively, to support Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs, a new design to train workers in emerging industries by transferring government oversight to companies, trade groups, and unions. The program would function separately from the Labor Department’s long-established registered apprenticeship system.
Congress has yet to authorize a single dollar for Trump’s alternative model amid mounting Democratic concerns over a million-dollar funding misstep. Some lawmakers say IRAPs are unproven and lack the wage and safety standards of the New-Deal-era registered apprenticeship programs.
But what distinguishes upcoming negotiations over Fiscal 2021 funding is that the budget proposal the White House is set to send to Capitol Hill on Feb. 10 coincides with the Labor Department’s forthcoming final rule to implement the IRAP model. The final rule will allow the program to go live, increasing the stakes during budget talks in a presidential election year for a program that was once the centerpiece of Trump’s workplace policy agenda.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee for labor agencies, said he expects the White House to request funding for industry-run apprenticeships. Some Democrats say that’s a non-starter in any 2021 budget or spending talks, while others are looking to renegotiate the National Apprenticeship Act to block the IRAP initiative.
Presidential budget requests are traditionally heavy on policy messaging and often disregarded by Congress on many points. But increasing questions over whether lawmakers will agree to finance the new apprenticeship system are compounding the uncertainty surrounding IRAPs among industry and workforce development stakeholders.
“With respect to the IRAP regulations, I think we’re all kind of in wait-and-see mode,” said Kermit Kaleba, managing director of policy at the National Skills Coalition, an organization promoting workforce education that’s governed by representatives from business, labor, community colleges, and the public sector.