×

Trump, listen up: Here's where an apprenticeship program is really working in the US

  • Trump signed an executive order to roughly double the funding, to $200 million in the US, for apprenticeship grants.
  • Trump wants to create 4.5 million new apprenticeships over the next five years, which would be almost 10 times the total that exist now.
  • Louisiana's workforce-training program, FastStart, has trained 26,000 workers for 175 companies.
  • FastStart forms project-specific public-private partnerships with two-year and four-year colleges to provide curricula and training services that support job growth at client companies.
Donald Trump attends the 'Celebrity Apprentice' Red Carpet Event at Trump Tower on January 5, 2015, in New York City.
Mike Pont | FilmMagic | Getty Images
Donald Trump attends the 'Celebrity Apprentice' Red Carpet Event at Trump Tower on January 5, 2015, in New York City.

If anybody knows about apprenticing, it's President Donald Trump, who built a big part of his celebrity on his hit NBC show, The Apprentice, so it was fitting that he held an apprenticeship summit at the White House on June 15.

A number of federal and state officials were on hand for the meeting, which included a working discussion in the Cabinet Room with the president, his daughter Ivanka, and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, among others, before Trump signed an executive order to roughly double the funding for apprenticeship grants to $200 million, while accelerating the creation of 4.5 million more apprenticeships in five years (the money would come from existing job-training programs).

President Donald Trump shows off his executive order that aims to expand apprenticeships to train people for millions of unfilled skilled jobs. The order doubles the funding for apprenticeship grants, to $200 million, by reallocating money from existing job-training programs.
Getty Images
President Donald Trump shows off his executive order that aims to expand apprenticeships to train people for millions of unfilled skilled jobs. The order doubles the funding for apprenticeship grants, to $200 million, by reallocating money from existing job-training programs.

One of those officials in attendance, appropriately, was Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson. Louisiana's workforce-training program, FastStart, is the best in the nation for the seventh year running, according to Business Facilities magazine, which bases its ranking on workforce training incentives and recent projects secured with training commitments. (Since its founding in 2008, FastStart has trained close to 26,000 individual workers in the state and delivered almost 400,000 hours of training in everything from manufacturing and software development to distribution and customer contact centers for 175 companies.)

"We talked a lot about earn while you learn," says Pierson of the Cabinet Room discussion, where he shared some of his state's success. "Less debt and more skill set is sort of the concept. About 6 million technical jobs are available in manufacturing and other fields that we just don't have the workforce to supply. The low-paying, low-skilled jobs are essentially being eliminated. Now somebody who keeps a plant running is more likely to carry an iPad than a toolbox."

Louisiana's apprenticeship model uses public funds for the training as part of a performance-based incentive package that ensures companies produce the agreed-upon capital investment and job creation targets in order to be eligible. FastStart also forms project-specific public-private partnerships with two-year and four-year colleges to provide curricula and training services that support employer growth at client companies.

More from America's Top States for Business
Top 10 states to get an education in America in 2017
The 10 best states to find a job in America
America's Top States for Business in America in 2017

In addition to 35 high schools in Louisiana offering certification for manufacturing for the first time this past school year, a new, six-month "Operator Apprenticeship" program at the community and technical colleges combine three days in the classroom with two days in on-the-job training at three companies in the state so far.

The Software Engineering Apprentice Program, steered by the University of New Orleans and LED FastStart, is creating a pipeline of talent for the GE Digital Technology Center in New Orleans, as well as other tech employers in the city.
Source: LED FastStart
The Software Engineering Apprentice Program, steered by the University of New Orleans and LED FastStart, is creating a pipeline of talent for the GE Digital Technology Center in New Orleans, as well as other tech employers in the city.

And as part of Louisiana Economic Development's support for the GE Digital Technology Center in New Orleans (a 300-job software and IT center), FastStart helped design and implement SWEAP, the Software Engineering Apprenticeship Program, in which computer science majors at the University of New Orleans and other area universities are employed at GE during their junior and senior years. SWEAP boasts a 91 percent conversion rate to full-time employment at GE upon graduation, with 24 SWEAP graduates hired so far.

Customizing the workforce 

"One of the things we're hearing is kind of a departure from the traditional training method," says FastStart executive director Paul Helton. "Companies nowadays don't have that leisure where they can spend three, four weeks training someone, so we're developing a lot more information-on-demand [like videos for special tasks]and really utilizing mobile devices, trying to do more on-the-job training that is a lot more effective and gets people out to the floor much more quickly."

While swiftness might be a hallmark of FastStart, the long view is just as important. "We can custom-make the workforce that's required, but we just don't say 'Have a nice day" and walk away," says Pierson. "We see these as long-term engagements."

In the Shreveport area in the northwest part of the state, for instance, the state created a worker pipeline for pipelines: The $22 million Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Technology at Bossier Parish Community College attracted German steel manufacturer Benteler to build a seamless steel pipe mill, the first most advanced of its kind in the country. The center provides hands-on training for pipe fabricators, engineers, distribution and logistics personnel and management.

A team of community college instructors at SOWELA Technical Community College’s regional training center in Lake Charles, Louisiana, is providing hands-on training.
Source: LED FastStart
A team of community college instructors at SOWELA Technical Community College’s regional training center in Lake Charles, Louisiana, is providing hands-on training.

And down in the southwest, in the Lakes Charles area, there's so much new construction of advanced chemical manufacturing under way — about $65 billion worth — that the state built a $20 million training facility at SOWELA Technical Community College. The facility, which trains chemists, engineers, lab technicians, environmental and safety professionals and management, was a major factor in why Sasol, a South African chemical and energy giant, chose Louisiana over a number of other states (and countries) to spend $11 billion to expand its existing facility, as well as construct a whole new complex. Now 65 percent complete, it's the largest foreign investment ever in the state. With FastStart's help, the company has hired more than 500 full-time workers so far.

"The FastStart program made what was originally to be considered a high-risk issue — workforce development — to be something that has been very manageable," says Mike Thomas, Sasol's senior vice president of U.S. operations. "We must have very highly trained workers because of the complexity of what we do. FastStart also ensured that we would have qualified applicants with proper screening in place, and that's a big deal. When you go to find hundreds of new employees, the upfront work is a lot of work."

The Software Engineering Apprentice Program, steered by the University of New Orleans and LED FastStart, is creating a pipeline of talent for the GE Digital Technology Center in New Orleans and other tech employers in the city.
Source: LED FastStart
The Software Engineering Apprentice Program, steered by the University of New Orleans and LED FastStart, is creating a pipeline of talent for the GE Digital Technology Center in New Orleans and other tech employers in the city.

State woes

It's not all sunshine and moonbeams in the Bayou State, however. Louisiana came in 44th in CNBC.com's America's Top States for Business in 2017 due in part to a budget crisis and cheap oil that jeopardize the generous business incentives.

As the No. 2 energy producer in the country, Louisiana has lost about 15,000 oil-related jobs, but FastStart is having an impact there, too, transitioning thousands of them to new careers through ongoing, project-related efforts at Benteler and Sasol, as well as through the job-matching portal LouisianaJobConnection.com, special job campaigns and related career fairs — such as Bayou Opportunity and Acadiana Opportunity.

"As evidenced by my presence at the White House, workforce remains a critical issue in America," says Pierson. "The states that are going to be at the forefront of growing and retaining their companies are going to be those states that can provide a highly-skilled workforce. Keep in mind that we probably have jobs five years from now that aren't even envisioned today due to technology, so we have to be flexible, and that requires a close working relationship on the one side with industry and where they're trying to go, like 3-D printing or what have you, and on the other side with the higher-educational institutions that integrate the important educational elements into the identified skill sets required by industry and business."

— By Tom Cunneff, special to CNBC.com

Latest Special Reports

  • Frontline insights and unique views on key issues and challenges facing today’s CFOs.

  • The latest CNBC Fed Survey.

  • Net/Net promo

    Examining how top companies promote and manage innovation, leverage rapid change and use technology to grow exponentially.