Yesterday, Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) encouraging the Department of Labor to ditch government oversight of federally-funded apprenticeship programs—programs that are an essential pipeline to good, high-paying jobs in industries like construction or manufacturing.
Currently, the Department of Labor ensures that apprenticeship programs meet very important labor and equal employment opportunity standards so that apprentices receive quality, non-discriminatory training that doesn’t put their life in danger. You know, just little things like that.
But Trump’s EO encourages the DoL to propose regulations that would allow third-party entities, like trade groups or businesses, to set their own standards for apprenticeship programs that, if met, would set the apprenticeship program up for expedited approval by the Department of Labor. So basically, if some construction business thinks their apprenticeship programs are super swell, their programs would be on the road to approval by the DoL.
This Executive Order is yet another assault on women and here’s why:
Women make up 47% of the workforce, but they account for only about 7% of apprentices in federally-administered apprenticeship programs. And that number is as high as it is because it includes apprenticeships in a broad range of industries, including lower-paying industries like health care, where most women apprentices are concentrated. If we just look at the percentage of women apprentices in higher-paying industries, like construction, the numbers are even more abysmal. Women are only 2% of apprentices in construction.
Apprenticeship programs in the United States are failing women, and especially women of color, on a large scale. That’s because a lot of these programs are in fields that are non-traditional for women, like construction, manufacturing, or utilities, where Mad Men-era attitudes and employment practices are rampant. Information about how and when to apply to these apprenticeship programs is tightly controlled by construction workers, who are overwhelmingly male. If you aren’t connected to the “FBI”—or the “Friends, Brothers, and In-Laws” network—your chances of even knowing about an apprenticeship, much less being selected for one, are minimal. That means women and minorities lose out big time.
For those women who do manage to learn about these apprenticeship opportunities, they face outright sex and race discrimination in the hiring process. If they manage to make it into the program, women apprentices have to fight against gender stereotypes, including perceptions that they are intruders and incapable of doing the job—perceptions that lead employers to exclude women apprentices from the full job training rotation or other job opportunities. Even worse, women face extreme sexual harassment, denigration, hazing, and isolation. A study by the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 88 percent of women construction workers experience sexual harassment at work, compared to 25 percent of women in the general workforce.
Reading the stories of relentless harassment that women construction apprentices face today is like stepping back in time. Now Trump wants to take us back even further. The small progress that has been made in the last few decades towards getting more women into non-traditional apprenticeship programs has been due in significant part to the federal government setting and enforcing strong equal employment standards. But DoL’s capacity to conduct regular compliance reviews and enforcement actions has been limited and progress in recent years has been stagnant. What the President really needs to be doing now is increasing DoL’s funding and doubling down on the Department’s efforts to hold apprenticeship programs accountable to strong equal employment opportunity standards, not rolling them back.
With this EO, Trump is effectively telling women aspiring to apprenticeships “You’re Fired!” before they even have a chance to apply.