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Trump to tout apprenticeships, turning to an issue with bipartisan support


President Trump is putting a spotlight Thursday on his administration’s efforts to broaden the reach of private-sector apprenticeship programs, part of an effort to close a “skills gap” that the White House says is leaving millions of jobs unfilled.

Trump plans to sign an executive order that would reorient and expand ApprenticeshipUSA, a grant program that was previously championed by the Obama administration and has been supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.

The administration’s aim, according to White House officials, is to give more flexibility to third parties — including businesses, trade associations and labor unions — to design programs that will offer skills training to those who are seeking jobs for which they are not yet qualified.

Under current rules, the Labor Department is too heavy handed in crafting the programs, a senior White House official said in advance of Trump’s announcement, expected late Thursday morning.

“The process is simply too hard,” the official said, saying Trump and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, will also use “the bully pulpit” that the White House provides to encourage more businesses to create apprenticeship programs. The administration is seeking to broaden the use of such programs beyond manufacturing to other sectors, including health care and accounting, the official said.

Trump wants to expand the program’s budget to about $200 million, roughly twice its existing level, by redirecting other funds from the Labor Department, the official, who briefed the media on condition of not being identified, told reporters.

White House officials say they are seeking bipartisan support for their job-training initiative, a different tack than Trump has used in trying to push through marquee legislation on health care and tax reform.

In his yet-unrealized efforts to revamp the Affordable Care Act and cut taxes, Trump and congressional Republicans are trying to use a parliamentary maneuver that would allow them to pass bills without any Democratic buy-in. Nevertheless, Trump has decried Democrats as “obstructionists” to his initiatives.

Last year, the Obama administration trumpeted its efforts to expand apprenticeship programs, including $90 million secured in the budget for ApprenticeshipUSA through a bipartisan agreement.

“Apprenticeships are among the surest pathways to provide American workers from all backgrounds with the skills and knowledge they need to acquire good-paying jobs and grow the economy,” the Obama administration said in a news release at the time.

The executive order Trump is set to sign on Thursday also establishes a task force to recommend ways to promote apprenticeships and directs the Labor Department to evaluate the effectiveness of its various job-training programs.

Trump spent 14 seasons as host of the NBC reality show, “The Apprentice,” a dynamic administration officials have sought to play down in selling this initiative

The apprenticeship expansion is being rolled out as part of what the White House has dubbed “workforce development week.” That’s part of a broader effort to show Trump remains focused on his policy agenda despite cascading headlines about investigations into his campaign’s ties to Russia and the possibilities of acts of obstruction of justice.

Trump had planned to sign the executive order on apprenticeships during a trip to the Labor Department on Wednesday, but that visit was canceled following the shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va.