President Donald Trump wants to blow out the number of apprentices working for U.S. companies — but it doesn't look like he'll spend the money to do it.
Apprenticeships blend on-the-job work with paid classroom instruction, and they usually last two to six years. The federal government has regulated and certified apprenticeships since 1937, but the jobs were not actively promoted by more recent presidents until the Obama administration.
Trump wants to create 5 million new apprenticeships over the next five years, which would be almost 10 times the total that exist now. But the money he has appropriated to apprenticeships is roughly the same as it was under Obama. The budget for fiscal 2016 appropriated $90 million for apprenticeships; that number is set to increase only to $95 million as part of Congress' omnibus budget for 2017.
"Just because something's a good thing doesn't mean you can have it," said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Most of the cost of apprenticeships is borne by employers, with the government taking a regulatory role. But the administration has provided few details on how it will create exponential gains with roughly the same amount of federal spending.
"You can't grow tomatoes in the desert," Carnevale said. "The bottom line on America is, it requires enormous expenditures and regulation of employers, and that ain't gonna happen."
The Department of Labor did not respond to requests for comment. At a news conference Monday, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta avoided details on how it plans to increase the number of apprenticeships.
"Getting from 500,000 to 5 million?" asked Robert Schwartz, senior research fellow of educational policy at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. "This is the typical kind of Trump looseness with the facts."
The president signed an executive order Thursday for the "Apprenticeship and Workforce of Tomorrow" program, an initiative "removing federal restrictions" that have prevented industries from creating apprenticeships, Trump said.
"We want to keep jobs in America, and we want to train people and hire American workers to fill those jobs," Trump said. "And that's exactly what we're doing."
"Let's do that — let's go for that 5 million," Trump responded.
To achieve that goal, his administration would need to increase the current number of active apprenticeships almost tenfold — from 505,371 in the last quarter of 2016, according to the Department of Labor — in just five years.
Trump's position is in some ways a continuation of the Obama administration's effort to revive apprenticeships across industries. The number of apprenticeships grew substantially under President Barack Obama, from roughly 350,000 in 2010 to more than half a million today.
"The Obama administration said, 'Hey, it's a great model with great outcomes, let's expand it,'" said Eric Seleznow, who was the Labor Department's deputy assistant secretary during Obama's presidency. "And that's exactly what they did."
While most experts agree that more apprenticeships would be a good thing for the economy, the Trump administration's budget proposals in recent months — including a 40 percent cut to job training programs and a 21 percent cut to the Department of Labor — created concern among apprenticeship advocates.
"It's an aspirational goal," Seleznow said, referring to the 5 million apprenticeships. "I don't think it's feasible."
Clarification: This report has been updated to reflect the number of apprenticeships that will be created over five years, rather than give the total that will exist in five years.