Tonight’s primary debate kicks off a two-day Gladiator-esque battle among the two dozen Democratic candidates running for president. Millennials are a key voting block, so we can expect to hear proposals meant to appeal to our nation’s young people. The question is whether anyone will have any fresh ideas to expand opportunity for them.
Free college tuition and student debt forgiveness are stale ideas that only benefit a subset of young voters. What are the candidates’ ideas for young people who can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t go to college? Or for the workers sitting on the sidelines of the economy because they lack employable skills? So far, we’ve heard no answers from these candidates.
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is pushing ahead with new ways to empower young people and workers of all ages through skills education. Unless Democratic challengers have solutions beyond shoveling young people onto college campuses, they will give voters another reason to support the President in 2020.
For example, the Department of Labor just introduced a proposal to create a new class of apprenticeships that will stand side-by-side with the existing federal registered apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships are a key part of the Trump Administration’s effort to get Americans working.
The unemployment rate is already at its lowest level in 30 years and blacks, Hispanics, and women are experiencing historically-low unemployment rates thanks to a tight job market. Furthermore, there are 7.5 million open jobs, but millions of these jobs require skills that many American workers simply do not possess.
This skills gap is a problem for workers and employers. A record-high 25% of small business owners cited finding qualified workers as their most important problem last month.
Enter apprenticeships, an age-old idea that is gaining new clout as a way to train, upskill, and reskill students and workers.
To take one headline-grabbing example, Kim Kardashian West recently revealed that she was skipping law school and pursuing a legal apprenticeship to become a lawyer.
Apprenticeships are supported by the left and right, but the federal apprenticeship program has been criticized for not attracting young people, because it is dominated by trades that many young people just do not see as viable career opportunities.
The Administration’s new Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship program brings key stakeholders together (including academia, nonprofits, employers, and industry associations) to create industry-specific high-quality apprenticeships.
This new industry-driven approach could start to solve the public relations problem plaguing apprenticeships by expanding beyond blue-collar jobs to white-collar industries such as technology, health care, and banking. Students and sidelined workers may better see themselves in careers as pharmacy technicians, bank branch managers, and software developers.
In addition, DOL is placing control and oversight of these apprenticeships in the hands of those who are closest to the rapidly-changing needs and skills of different industries, rather than in the hands of Washington bureaucrats. That’s a good thing.
Apprenticeships are a good bang for your buck. You earn while learning and often finish with a well-paying job. As Ivanka Trump and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta explained in a recent op-ed, the average starting salary for apprentices is over $70,000. A whopping 91% of them are employed after completing their programs.
Let’s compare that to the $33,000 in student debt that 70% of college graduates shoulder. Two out of three American workers regret their college degrees and student loan debt is a big reason why.
Senator Bernie Sanders wants to simply forgive the $1.5 trillion of existing student loan debt. In addition, he proposes making public college and community college tuition free. Senator Elizabeth Warren and former vice president Joe Biden are also on the free-college bandwagon.
However, forgiving student debt effectively punishes students who have been repaying or minimized debt when making education decisions. It’s simply unfair. And, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll, 52 % of voters oppose making U.S. public colleges free. That opposition rises when they learn free college would be paid for by a new tax on the wealthy.
For decades, our society has been conditioned to believe that every kid should go to college, but views are changing, thankfully. Americans recognize that a college degree is not a sure-fire ticket to a comfortable middle-class life. Americans are embracing alternative career paths but need to know how to connect to them.
The Trump Administration has taken on the task of connecting students and workers to those alternative paths. It is a worthy goal that could reshape the workforce of the future. It won’t be easy but it is a goal that Americans can get behind.