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Press Briefing by Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Workforce Development in Bridgewater, New Jersey

August 11, 2017

Bridgewater Marriott

5:07 P.M. EDT

MS. DITTO: Good afternoon, everyone. Today, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave the President an update on the Trump administration's workforce development policies and apprenticeship initiative. The secretaries will each give remarks about their discussion with the President and will then take a few questions. Please keep your questions related to today's discussion on workforce development and apprenticeships.

With that, I'll turn it over to Secretary Acosta.

SECRETARY ACOSTA: Thank you, and good afternoon. So let me just say, it's a pleasure to be here to update President Trump on the optimistic outlook of the American workforce.

Today, we specifically discussed our process implementing the executive order on apprenticeships. The President's top priority in labor is jobs, more jobs, and even more jobs. And the Department of Labor is implementing the President's vision to ensure that Americans have the skills that they need to fill good, safe jobs.

There are 6.2 million job openings here nationwide. This is the highest number on record, yet 7 million Americans are looking for jobs. Americans want to work. American companies want to hire. We need to close the skills gap between those skills that are demanded by the workforce and those skills that are offered by the American people.

This is why the President signed this executive order to expand apprenticeships to all sectors of our economy. The concept of demand-driven education has been enthusiastically received by private industry, educational institutions, and state and local officials across the country. The CEOs of more than 100 major companies signed a joint letter in support of this executive order. And I should say, I've spoken with dozens of CEOs, college and university presidents, union leaders, and industry groups.

To a person, they are excited about apprenticeships. They're excited about this work, and are already starting to develop apprenticeship programs. We're currently evaluating hundreds of submissions that we have received in response to a call for nominations on the Apprenticeship Expansion Task Force. We expect the work of this task force to begin in September. They'll advise the administration on effective apprenticeship strategies for all industries.

The Department of Labor is partnering with industry groups, companies, nonprofit organizations, unions, joint labor management organizations, and so many others to help design these apprenticeship programs. Industry-recognized apprenticeships will teach workers skills that are transferable and portable within industries, resulting in even more job opportunities.

Finally, I want to thank the President for his leadership on this effort, and I also want to thank Ivanka Trump and the Office of American Innovation for their tireless effort on this initiative.

Workforce education begins at our educational institutions. Students attend schools to become lifelong learners, but they also attend school to acquire the skills that lead to good, safe jobs with family-sustaining wages. Workforce education is a joint effort between the Department of Labor and the Department of Education.

And so I want to thank Secretary DeVos for her partnership and her efforts. We're working hand-in-hand in this initiative, and she and I have attended so many events where she has spoken and I've spoken, because this really is an effort between the Department of Labor and the Department of Education. And so she's going to say a few words today.

SECRETARY DEVOS: Thank you, Secretary Acosta. Good afternoon, everyone. I'd just like to say that we had a really productive discussion with the President this afternoon. This is a subject about which he is highly interested and about which many, many Americans care.

Following the executive order in June, it was very clear the President really wants to see action in this area. And Secretary Acosta has just framed up some of the things that are underway right now. But I think it's important to remember that economics and our economies have changed dramatically in the last 50 years. Education needs to keep up. We need to update not only what we are teaching but also how we are teaching. We need to embrace innovation in our approaches to education.

Schools are going to be beginning here very soon, and some actually have already, but the reality is that there are fewer traditional college students -- four-year college students. Many adults are going back to school to learn skills; many going back to change professions. I've met a number of these in my visits to schools in recent months. I think about the dance major who has now become a welder and loves her profession. I think about the court clerk who was bored with a desk job and went back and studied in the area of mechatronics and is now happily employed in advanced manufacturing in the aerospace industry.

As Secretary Acosta mentioned, there are more than 6 million jobs that are going unfilled currently. It's a mismatch on both skills, as well as geography. We really need to equip students with what they need to pursue these 21st century opportunities.

And this is not limited to higher education, either. More can be done at the K-12 level. Students need to be able to understand and know the multiple pathways they have to a productive adult life, starting as early as middle school. And they need to have access to a variety of ways to learn these interesting subjects.

So I'll conclude with just saying that the administration's work in this area is going to help students first and foremost, but it's going to help communities, it's going to help our economy, and it ultimately will help our country.

With that, I think we are ready to take a couple of questions.


Q: At some point, these priorities may need legislative approval, and I'm wondering if President Trump's comments about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will make that easier or more difficult in the future.

SECRETARY ACOSTA: Well, I'll say that this is an area that I think has broad-based support. If you look at -- there's so many ideas on the Hill around apprenticeship efforts. And it's an area that I think -- all legislators recognize that the American workforce deserves the best training and the best education available. We have 6.2 million open jobs. We have 7 million individuals who want to work. And I think there's broad recognition that we need to provide those individuals that want to work with access to the skills that is demanded by the modern workforce.

SECRETARY DEVOS: And I would just add to that that I'm sure you're aware that the Perkins reauthorization passed the House with an overwhelming majority. In fact, it was as close to unanimous as you could come. And so I agree with Secretary Acosta that there's broad support for opportunities -- to expand opportunities for access to higher education and learning opportunities.

Q: Thank you. Part of the President's initial executive order called for a review of how federal agencies could improve their training for apprenticeship programs. Can you talk a little about what a key finding or a few of the key findings were?

And can you talk a little bit about -- I mean, obviously there's a lot of bipartisan support for apprenticeship programs. Are you feeling that play out? Are you reaching out to or have you had a number of Democratic lawmakers reach out to you to join with you in this effort?

SECRETARY ACOSTA: Well, you're correct, there's support across the nation for apprenticeship programs. I have traveled to so many cities in the last month, and, to a person, I have heard support, I've heard excitement about apprenticeship programs.

As you mentioned, the executive order asked that each agency review its own programs to see how they can better support apprenticeship programs. And so, for example, the Department of Defense is going to be looking to see how they can better pipeline individuals that are leaving military service into apprenticeship programs. As we're working with several agencies and that review is underway.

In the front.

Q: We've heard a lot today about the commitment to apprenticeship programs, but the President's budget actually calls for some pretty deep cuts to funding for states that would go for technical training, career training -- things like that. How do you square those two things up?

SECRETARY ACOSTA: Actually, the President's budget maintains equal funding for apprenticeship programs and does not reduce it. But let me say, one of the points that I worry about sometimes in Washington is that we judge the success of a program by how much it spends. And we should judge the success of the program by how effective it is.

And so if you look at apprenticeships, for example, in the building trades -- the building trades spend almost a billion a year of private sector money on apprenticeship programs. That's a success. The fact that they spend a billion a year of private sector money should be a complement and not a problem. And so, part of these apprenticeship programs --- and the key here -- is that we expect industry to be in charge, that industry should take the lead and should be paying for much of this training.

And so, first, let me again reiterate, the President's budget does not reduce the spending on apprenticeship programs; it maintains level funding. But secondly, let's not judge a program by how much it spends, but by how effective it is.

Q: And I was talking about funding in the education budget specifically.

SECRETARY DEVOS: And actually, the CTE funding is relatively level compared to the year before, but the reality is that we're looking at ways that -- we're looking at programs that have been duplicative between agencies, and we are really searching for the way forward to support those that are effective and to do away with the things that are ineffective.

And Secretary Acosta is absolutely right, the private sector has really stepped up in a major way and we need to partner with them in a much more intentional way to ensure that there are more and more opportunities that are meeting the needs of the jobs that exist.

Q: The President has touted many times since he's taken office how great the jobs numbers are, his successes in creating jobs. Before he took office -- many, many times -- he called the unemployment numbers fiction and said those numbers were fake. How do you square those two things? What is his position now? Does he have confidence in the unemployment numbers, or has he changed his position to suit his politics?

SECRETARY ACOSTA: Well, as you pointed out, there is a renewed spirit of optimism that has led to incredibly strong economic growth. Just since January, unemployment has fallen 0.5 percent to its lowest level in 16 years. U6 -- you referenced different measures -- U6, which is the broadest measure of unemployment, has fallen even further. It's fallen 0.8 percent. The stock market has hit high after high after high. Inflation figures just came out today, and they remain rather low -- 1.7 percent as of today, as opposed to 1.6 percent last month.

And so you have confidence and optimism that is, again, among job creators, reaching levels that we haven't seen in many, many years. And I guess I should just say, if you look at the jobs numbers just since January, more than 1,070,000 jobs have been created.

Now, as you point out, there are several measures of unemployment. Actually, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out at least six measures of unemployment -- U1 through U6 -- each focused on a different measure and each getting progressively broader. I would simply reiterate that the standard measure that we usually talk about that's at 4.3 percent has fallen 0.5. But the broader measure, which you reference, which the President has referenced at times, has fallen even further by 0.8 percent, which, in six months, is rather a stunning decrease.

Q: I'm sorry, just to be clear, does the President have confidence in the numbers that come out of the Department of Labor? And why did he previously call them fake?

SECRETARY ACOSTA: And so I'm here to tell you what the numbers that come out of the Department of Labor are. I would leave it to him to comment further. But let me say this: I think the President has talked about the job figures, and he has pointed out how incredibly strong they are. We have a renewed spirit of optimism that has led to economic growth, and let's just look at the numbers that have come out of Bureau of Labor Statistics month after month after month. Unemployment is down 0.5 percent, the U3 number to 4.3. It's a 16-year low. The U6 number is down 0.8 percent.

And so this data -- and it is data -- shows incredible economic growth and we should focus on the growth that we see in this economy.

SECRETARY DEVOS: Let me just add to what Secretary Acosta said in that we can acknowledge, at the same time, that there are too many Americans that have decided to leave the labor market and are not looking for a job, and we want to ensure opportunities for them to realize everything that they can actually be and have paths and avenues to good work, and to have opportunities that have heretofore not been afforded them.

A lot of the messaging that's been sent the last couple of decades has been that, if you do not attend a 4-year college or university, you are less-than. And this is a very different approach that we have in this administration -- to reach out and to say: All of you are needed and all of you are important parts of our society and parts of our country.

And this apprenticeship program, this apprenticeship focus, and the focus on multiple pathways to higher education is a really, really important effort to better engage a greater swath of our population.

Q: You're both here at a time when the President is also dealing with issues related to foreign policy. That came up in the meeting that you had today. As two members of his Cabinet, did he share with you any of the larger concerns that he's dealing with now, or read you in at all on the U.S. position related to what's happening with North Korea right now?

SECRETARY ACOSTA: So, I would say from my perspective, the President was focused on the American workforce, on how to create jobs. And he wants to see, as I said earlier, jobs, more jobs, and even more jobs. This is something he cares very passionate about. He comes from the construction industry and is very familiar with the success of the building trades in creating apprenticeships, and he wants to see this expanded across all industries.

SECRETARY DEVOS: Yeah, he's focused on opportunities -- opportunities for all Americans.

Q: So as members of the Cabinet, though, he doesn't discuss these larger issues that I realize are not your direct area of responsibility? But as members of the team --

SECRETARY DEVOS: Not in the context of our meeting today.

SECRETARY ACOSTA: Thank you very much.

Q: Thanks for coming.


END 5:23 P.M. EDT

Donald J. Trump, Press Briefing by Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Workforce Development in Bridgewater, New Jersey Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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