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story.lead_photo.caption U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta (left) and Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin (middle) listen to Jessup Grogan, a medical professions program graduate, during a tour of the North Little Rock School District’s Center of Excellence on Monday morning.

A long-awaited proposed federal rule that would create alternative apprenticeship training programs fostered by industry will be published in the Federal Register next Monday, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Monday.

The new rule would create what Acosta called "industry-recognized apprenticeship programs."

The new pathway would help create apprenticeship programs in health care; manufacturing; and field related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, just as there are apprenticeship programs available for plumbers, carpenters and electricians.

"In the trades we have all these apprenticeship programs," he said. "But in coding we don't have apprenticeships."

The new program will allow people interested in STEM-related fields to have a pathway to jobs without going to college.

Acosta spoke at a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges facing the American workforce in front of an audience of about 100 business executives. The panel discussion, moderated by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, was held at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce in Little Rock.

The secretary later toured the North Little Rock School District's Center of Excellence.

The Center of Excellence is a state-approved college and career preparatory charter high school designed around five career pathways -- engineering, computer science, medical professionals, manufacturing and transportation/logistics. Instruction takes place at the center, online and at industry sites.

"We all talk about STEM but one of the mistakes we make we talk about STEM solely in the context of college," Acosta said. "But not everyone has to go to college. That should be a choice. We need to figure how to hire individuals based on skill."

Under the proposed rule, industries would be encouraged to develop their own curricula for apprentice training.

Acosta gave pharmacy technicians as an example.

"When someone starts as a pharmacy tech, there's an online program, not by the company but by an association so it's portable," he said. "You go from a pharmacy tech level 1 to a pharmacy tech level 2. And then when a spot opens up for a level 2 tech you already have the folks who've self-selected, that showed the initiative at gaining the education for those skills."

Unlike the traditional registered apprenticeship programs, which are federally licensed, the Department of Labor wouldn't be in charge, he said.

"Industry is much more nimble, much more effective," he said. "They know what they need. We should not be directing certainly from Washington or even from Little Rock. You want national and you want portable."

As part of the forum, Acosta took some questions.

Randy Zook, the chamber's president and chief executive officer, asked about the status of an administration proposal to tap unemployment insurance trust fund balances to help pay for mandated parental leave.

Arkansas' unemployment insurance trust fund once had a $360 million deficit five or six years ago but now boasts a $750 million balance, he said.

"We would be loathe to see anything done to tap that fund for any other proposed benefits other than unemployment insurance," Zook said.

Acosta defended the importance of parental leave as an effective tool to keep people in the workforce but said "how we get there [remains] under discussion."

State Rep. Sarah Capp, R-Ozark, sought from Acosta the reasons for the Labor Department's plans to close nine Job Corps centers around the nation, including one in the Franklin County community of Cass, which is in her district.

The department is accepting comments until July 1 on the center closings.

"We're in essence running 125 community colleges from Washington," Acosta said. "In this particular one, the per student cost is about $55,000 [per year]."

The Job Corps center at Cass is too small and is in an area that isn't in high demand, he said.

While Acosta called the decision difficult, he said the savings could be redirected to provide more education to more students at less costly Job Corps centers, such as the one in Little Rock.

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR.
U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta (far left) meets with students and teachers Monday morning during a tour of the North Little Rock School District’s Center of Excellence. At an ear- lier event in Little Rock, Acosta spoke about a federal rule that he said will foster the creation of “industry-recognized apprenticeship programs.”

Business on 06/18/2019

Print Headline: U.S. labor chief meets Little Rock crowd

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Archived Comments

  • Illinoisroy
    June 18, 2019 at 7:43 a.m.

    I graduated from a high school that had aligned with local industry to push blue-collar children into a trade. Since my math skills were above average it was determined by my guidance counselor that I would major in drafting. Of course when the 70's recession hit all of us trained in specific trades were looking for employment.

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