By Alyson Klein and Catherine Gewertz
Surrounded by students and business representatives at the White House, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday creating a new “National Council of the American Worker,” which will be made up of senior administration officials. The council will develop strategy to train and retrain employees for high-demand industries.
The council also will be charged with developing a national campaign to draw attention to workforce-readiness issues, including the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, education. And it will come up with a plan for recognizing companies with strong workplace education, training, and retraining polices. It will also help expand the number of apprenticeships. The executive order doesn’t specify any new federal resources for those initiatives.
The Trump administration also is calling on American companies, associations, and philanthropies to sign a pledge committing to investing in workers and students, including high school students. The White House said it expected the “Pledge to America’s Workers” to provide at least 500,000 new career opportunities for students and workers over the next five years, including apprenticeships, work-based learning, and continuing education.
Some organizations and businesses have already signed the pledge, which doesn’t ask for a specific financial investment, including General Motors, FedEx, The Home Depot, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, and Walmart.
The president’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, a White House adviser, kicked off the event by introducing students from P-Tech High School in Syracuse, N.Y., who were able to earn more than 20 college credits while in high school in fields including manufacturing and electrical engineering.
Ivanka Trump set the stage for the announcement Tuesday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. She said the nation urgently needs training programs in high-need sectors like technology for people without bachelor’s degrees.
“For too long, both the public and the private sectors have failed to develop innovative training programs,” she wrote. The executive order will “prioritize and expand” workforce development, she wrote.
The Thursday event included representatives from the business community, including the American Hotel & Lodging Association, Lockheed Martin, and the American Trucking Association. Cabinet officials, including U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, were also on hand. DeVos applauded the initiative in a statement released after the event.
“This Administration understands that a dynamic and changing economy requires dynamic and changing approaches to education and workforce development,” she said. “The partnerships announced today involve those who are best-positioned to identify ideas and drive solutions. The President’s new initiative helps engage leaders across diverse sectors in an effort to open new pathways and opportunities for America’s students who should be free to pursue successful careers and meaningful lives.”
Trump’s approach of calling on the business community to help close the so-called “skills gap” is noteworthy. Some economists have criticized employers for complaining that the education system doesn’t adequately prepare workers, while refusing to step up and provide their own training programs or pay workers appropriately. Check out this charticle for more on what experts think is causing the “skills gap.”
This is far from the first time that the Trump administration has shone a spotlight on workforce readiness. The Trump administration is seeking to combine the Education Department and the Labor Department into a single agency focused on workforce readiness. But it is unlikely Congress will sign off on the plan.
Trump also convened an “Apprenticeship Task Force” led by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. (DeVos was also a member.) The president called for a major expansion of apprenticeships, including in all U.S. high schools, but the task force’s report made no mention of how that could happen.
The order comes just after a report by the president’s Council of Economic Advisers this week that pointed to an “information gap” that makes it hard for workers and educational institutions to know what skills employers need from their employees.
The council called for better coordination among those sectors to facilitate clearer and quicker signals about in-demand skills. The report also suggested that restrictions on the use of federal workforce training funds might be inhibiting training efforts, but didn’t delve into specifics. They suggested that Pell grant funds be made available for short-term training programs, and to those who already have bachelor’s degrees.
In the Wall Street Journal op-ed, Trump wrote that “for decades the government has had more than 40 workforce-training programs, in more than a dozen agencies, and too many have produced meager results.”
President Donald Trump holds up an Executive Order he signed that establishes a National Council for the American Worker, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on July 19.
--Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
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