Major labor groups are applauding President Trump's push to expand apprenticeship programs as a way to reduce unemployment and raise wages.
The groups said the effort, led by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, is crucial to a maintaining a sustained economic recovery.
"Very excited about @SecretaryAcosta's commitment to apprenticeship. The future depends on it," said the coalition group North America's Building Trades Unions in a tweet Thursday. The coalition was retweeting a Labor Department announcement of the program. The tweet was in turn retweeted by one of its coalition members, the Laborers' International Union of North America.
The administration's apprenticeship push is a stark contrast from the previous White Houses, which strove to make higher education more accessible for all by increasing student loan programs and largely ignored other options for new entrants to the workforce.
"College is not the only track to a great career," Acosta said at a Washington event last month to honor apprenticeship programs. "I was talking to a CEO the other day who said that his company was hiring welders at an opening salary of $60,000. I thought, 'Shouldn't kids know about this?'"
The White House has had a rocky relationship with organized labor, but Trump has had generally good relations with the construction trade groups, having had extensive dealings with them as a real estate developer prior to entering politics. Labor groups would have a key role in any expanded apprenticeship program.
Trump has included several construction union leaders in a task force on apprenticeships, including United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America President Douglas McCarron, North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey, and International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers President Joseph Sellers.
The Labor Department may have to do its apprenticeship push on a limited budget. The House spending bill for the department puts funding for the Employment Training Administration at $8.5 billion, a drop of $1.5 billion from the last year’s enacted level, while the Senate version puts it at $9.8 billion.
Trump proposed funding the Labor Department at $9.7 billion, a 20 percent reduction from the last fiscal year. The House appropriations bill put the department's budget at $10.8 billion, while the Senate version put it at $12 billion, essentially level funding it. Both bills are awaiting votes in their chambers. Acosta has said the department's budget will not affect the effort.