How a presidential executive order could help construction

Drive-thru:

  • An Executive Order established the President’s National Council for the American Worker to promote lifelong learning to support employees.
  • The order calls for collaboration between a constellation of federal cabinets, American businesses, and trade groups.
  • Construction trade groups should be at the forefront of this effort to raise awareness and develop policy to entice young people into the industry and create job security for all.

President Trump signed an executive order establishing the President’s National Council for the American Worker and the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board this summer.

The justification for the executive order is the lack of skilled American workers available to fill current and future job openings. President Trump and his administration hope to build a cooperative collaboration between the educational community and the labor community to guide teaching and training in skills for the 21st century.

What the Executive Order Says

The National Council for the American Worker involves multiple cabinet-level departments within the Federal government including Commerce, Labor, Domestic Policy, and the Office of Economic Initiatives as co-chairs. The Council also includes representation from Treasury, Education, Veterans Affairs, and the National Economic Council among many others.

The charge is for this diverse group to work with private employers, educational institutions, labor unions, other non-profit organizations, as well as with state, territorial, tribal, and local governments to create and promote workforce development.

The first step is to develop a national campaign raising awareness of the Council, the urgency of the skills crisis, and the importance of STEM education. The Council says it will also look toward workforce development for the future, ensuring workers will be educated and trained to work in emerging technologies.

The order includes developing a plan for recognizing excellence in training policies and investment as an incentive for American business to embrace the initiative. Overall, the executive order calls for a cooperative partnership of business and the federal government to meet workforce development needs.

What This Means for the Construction Industry

The Executive Order explicitly calls for support for an order signed in 2017 naming a “Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion”. Apprenticeship expansion promotes apprenticeships, earn-and-learn opportunities, and work-based training. Businesses such as IBM, Lockheed Martin, and other companies and trade groups signed a pledge to expand apprenticeship programs for students and workers to commit to lifelong learning.

It acknowledges that there are jobs that require more than a high school education but not a college degree. The Council sees the need for skills-based education and training, and recognizes that different types of jobs require different types of learning.

Businesses such as IBM, Lockheed Martin, and others signed a pledge to expand apprenticeship programs.

The order also shows an understanding of the needs of older workers whose skills may be outdated. Rather than treating retraining as an avoidable expense, the Council asks employers to look at training as an investment in employees that benefits both the company and the worker. Instead of being cast aside, a worker can gain updated skills to enhance job security in the future.

Leading up to the drafting of the executive order, there has been increasing recognition that not every job requires a college degree and not every person is best served by a university education. In fact, the trend in encouraging students to aim for college has left many with incomplete degrees and massive loan debt.

Training in the trades helps workers gain the skills to perform a well-paying job, and they often earn a paycheck during that process. Trade schools have long been more affordable than universities and have been recognized as the most efficient and effective way to bring new blood into the trades. Also, retraining older or disabled workers in new jobs within the industry and the company can help workers continue to earn while the business retains people who understand the company.

The Challenge Ahead

Michael Lotito, Co-Chair of the Workplace Policy Institute at Littler-Mendelson, said the executive order is an excellent first step but employers need to start to train their people now so they can be ready if and when their jobs are displaced, as is already occurring in food service and retail.

Human effort continues to be subsumed by automation and other technology, but that should not mean physical or mental labor is going away. We need to encourage everyone to continue to learn new skills and keep their finger on the pulse of their industry.

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