Trump’s Real Apprenticeships Offer a Lifeline

How the president’s executive order can expand opportunities for returned citizens.

My first introduction to Donald Trump occurred in 1987 when a college roommate showed me his copy of “The Art of the Deal.” In the opening lines of chapter one, Trump stated, “I don’t do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need.” Most Americans will never have all the money they’ll ever need, but Trump’s recent executive order can potentially help them earn more than they have now.

The order, titled “Expanding Apprenticeships in America,” could help millions of working-age adults in need of newer skills; the “idle army” of jobless men Nicholas Eberstadt warns us about; prime work-age women (25-54 years old), who have a lower employment-to-population ratio than men; and younger people looking to fill current or newly created jobs after high school or college.

Trump’s order has received a great deal of praise, and skepticism, in Washington and throughout the nation. The benefit to one population, though, has gone under the radar: The order would greatly expand opportunities for returned citizens. It states:

Sec. 6. Expanding Access to Apprenticeships
. The Secretaries of Defense, Labor, and Education, and the Attorney General, shall, in consultation with each other and consistent with applicable law, promote apprenticeships and pre apprenticeships for America’s high school students and Job Corps participants, for persons currently or formerly incarcerated, for persons not currently attending high school or an accredited post-secondary educational institution, and for members of America’s armed services and veterans. The Secretaries of Commerce and Labor shall promote apprenticeships to business leaders across critical industry sectors, including manufacturing, infrastructure, cybersecurity, and health care.

It is heartening to see Trump focus on youth at risk of leaving high school without a diploma, or worse, falling into the school-to-prison pipeline at a young age. The same is true for adults incarcerated in state and federal prison, a population traditionally left out of modern-day public policy conversations, even though their success upon release from prison is essential to American communities, businesses and families.

Between 1980 and 2015, the United States prison population increased by 500 percent. Today, almost 2.3 million individuals are behind bars, and 95 percent of them will leave incarcerated life at one point. It is estimated that over 650,000 men and women, approximately the size of the city of Memphis, return home from prison every year. Some leave prison with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from college-in-prison programs.
Others obtain vocational certifications for high-skill jobs through programs sponsored by, for example, the Georgia Department of Corrections and other state agencies. More recently, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin created a “Justice to Journeyman” program to connect adults in prison, and youth in juvenile justice centers, with credentials during their time under state and local supervision in Kentucky. Room for improvement exits.

For justice-involved youth, approximately 55,000 school-age children live in residential settings each year, be it in a group home or juvenile justice center. Research indicates that youth sent to a juvenile justice center arrive with academic challenges. Many of them return to school after serving time and are automatically placed in an “alternative” education program that may not be the best fit for their learning needs. This leads to them leaving school without a diploma.

Having worked with the formerly incarcerated, and observed re-entry and prison education models around the country, I see Trump’s approach as one that can especially help returned citizens eager to work and positively contribute to their families and communities. Here are four ways to serve returned citizens through an apprenticeship-focused approach:

Include more voices. The secretary of Health and Human Services and surgeon general should be added to the list of executive leaders responsible for expanding apprenticeships to adults and youth. Each government entity has existing partnerships with state and local agencies, as well as nonprofit and faith-based organizations, to address mental health and addition challenges facing current and former adult prisoners. For children and adolescents in the juvenile justice system, approximately 65 to 70 percent of them have a disability. A multi-prong approach is necessary.

Hold schools accountable. Title I, Part D of the Every Student Succeeds Act improved the pathway in and out of juvenile correction facilities for young people, and calls for more accountability for the education given to youth while inside a facility. The U.S. Department of Education should encourage state and local education officials to use flexibility under the law to better address the needs of justice-involved youth, and when necessary, provide a grant to school districts that show best practices for working with this population.

Partner with juvenile court judges. In 2014, juvenile courts handled nearly 1 million cases. While all of them did not result in placement into a facility, some did. A lot can be learned from these court cases. Looking at the work of Judges Steven C. Teske in Georgia and J. Brian Huff in Alabama can be of help to the administration.

ChalleNGe at-risk youth. The administration should consider the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program as an option for academic and workforce readiness for students who have dropped out of school. Founded in 1993, ChalleNGe is a 22-week residential program for 16- to 18-year-old high-school dropouts. The curriculum incorporates leadership, civic and career-preparation courses. According to Hugh B. Price, a former CEO of the National Urban League, ChalleNGe shows promise for at-risk youth – many of whom could end up in jail or prison.

Trump’s apprentice show highlighted the lives of relatively successful people who successfully navigated the education and workforce worlds. This time Trump’s apprentice executive order has the potential to help millions of adults and young people in need of an economic lifeline to a better future.


Courtesy By Gerard Robinson

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