Our surging economy has brought with it abundant job opportunities. Tax cuts and deregulation have boosted job creation. Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, 5.4 million jobs have been created and more people are working in America than ever before. The unemployment rate has dropped to 3.6%, the lowest since 1969, and last year, we saw the highest share of people entering our labor force from the sidelines since we started tracking in the early 1990s. Through the White House’s Pledge to America’s Workers, job creators around the nation have committed to nearly 10 million training, upskilling or reskilling opportunities for American students and workers.
Our thriving job market brings with it new challenges, however. Our economy has 7.4 million open jobs, and for 14 months in a row, it has had more job openings than job seekers. As businesses look to fill these jobs, we have an obligation to look for new ways to empower America’s workforce with the in-demand skills that employers need.
The apprenticeship model of skills education works well in America and throughout Europe. Apprenticeships are an earn-and-learn opportunity where individuals receive salaries and acquire the skills relevant to their chosen career, without the burdens of student loans and related debt. Since January 2017, more than 500,000 people have entered apprenticeship programs registered with the Department of Labor or its state counterparts. The average starting salary for individuals who have completed apprenticeships is over $70,000. Apprenticeships offer a pathway to a family-sustaining wages and fulfilling careers.
Historically, only a few industries have embraced the registered apprenticeship model in the United States. The building trades and the military, as it prepares members of the service to enter civilian life, accounted for approximately 77% of federally-registered apprenticeships last year. In Europe, the picture is quite different. There, apprenticeship programs are embraced broadly by a wide range of industries.
Our nation needs to empower more industries and professions to embrace apprenticeship opportunities. That is why the Trump administration is proposing a second apprenticeship model: the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship. The Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship program would stand alongside the Labor Department’s existing registered apprenticeships, which have found success in the building trades. This program would enable industries to come together through associations, consortia, nonprofits and other mechanisms to offer skills education to American students and workers.
Imagine if an employer joined forces with others in its industry to develop a cashier-to-store-manager program that would empower employees to have not only a job but a career — one that would allow employees to collect paychecks while at the same time learning the skills needed to climb the career ladder.
By the end of June, the Department of Labor will award $183 million to consortia of businesses and educational institutions to support Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship programs in sectors where apprenticeships are not widespread, such as technology, health care and advanced manufacturing. The department will also continue to fund the apprenticeship course Congress has specifically appropriated for the program.
We live in an age of acceleration, and the skills required for today’s jobs are changing more rapidly with each passing year. America needs to adapt its approach to skills education and be more nimble and responsive to the pace of change across all industries. We need opportunities to empower individuals to work and learn simultaneously so that students and workers of all ages and backgrounds can earn a living — and at the same time acquire the skills that will enable them to thrive in their current and future careers.
Ivanka Trump is adviser to President Donald Trump. Alexander Acosta is United States Secretary of Labor.