U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta speaking at ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition. Photo: Deborah Lockridge

U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta speaking at ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition. Photo: Deborah Lockridge

ORLANDO – The Trump administration will make it easier for groups such as the American Trucking Associations and the trucking industry to put in place apprentice programs to cross the job skills gap and help address driver and technician shortages, said U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta at ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition.

“American companies have 6.1 million job openings today,” Acosta said. “That’s a record high, almost the highest since we started keeping these statistics. There were 247,000 in transportation and warehousing as of this month’s report. Job creators want to hire. And Americans want to work, with nearly 7 million individuals looking for jobs. Job seekers need different skills to fill the open jobs. This is frequently referred to as the skills gap.”

One solution, he said, and one the Trump administration is pushing, is rapid expansion of apprenticeship programs. The administration is creating something called “industry recognized apprenticeships.” The U.S. Department of Labor Task Force on Apprenticeship.

“Apprentices earn skills for which there is actual demand,” Acosta said. “You’re educated in something for which there are jobs open. Second they earn while they learn, lessening the burden of student debt. Third, apprentices gain expertise from the real experts in the field.”

Yet apprenticeships are vastly underutilized, Acosta noted, making up only 0.3% of American workers – and the average age is 28, meaning workers are only finding out about these opportunities mid-career.

“By rapidly expanding apprenticeship opportunities, we can create new career pathways, especially for students, for young Americans looking for jobs,” Acosta said.

Expanding apprenticeships across all industries is a priority for the Trump administration, he said, and an executive order created a new model of industry-recognized apprenticeships. The Department of Labor will bring together trade and labor groups to design and certify high-quality apprenticeships appropriate for each industry.

“At the end of the program, employers would benefit from graduates that are loyal to the employer, because they know the employer was the one who helped them attain their workforce skills,” Acosta said.

While previous administrations have also developed various programs aimed at apprenticeships, Acosta said this will be different, because “we are not going to manage apprenticeships from Washington. You are in the best position to define what your industry needs and react to those needs…. Barriers that stood the way of apprenticeship programs are ready to come down.”

This will no doubt be high on ATA’s priority list as something to work with the administration on. During his state of the industry address following Acosta’s speech, ATA President and CEO Chris Spear noted, “Our industry faces several barriers that must be addressed if we’re to grow, including establishing pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training programs and hiring and training 18-21 year-olds. We need interstate recognition of credentials, entry-level training standards for veterans and nonveteran employees, solutions for the impact of detention time and congestion on drivers’ hours of service, and more,” he said.

To address these issues, Spear announced the creation of a new Workforce Development subcommittee to be chaired by ATA Secretary John Smith, chairman of CRST International Inc. “This subcommittee will enable ATA to work closely with this Administration, Congress and state governments to solve this problem,” he said.

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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