Labor Secretary calls for apprenticeship programs, touts pro-business efforts in Washington

 Labor Secretary Alex Acosta told ATA attendees how President Trump is looking to reduce barriers to make it easier for businesses to operate.
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta told ATA attendees how President Trump is looking to reduce barriers to make it easier for businesses to operate.

Delivering a speech that was warmly welcomed by attendees, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta said the Trump Administration was removing barriers to getting work done and improving healthcare for Americans in general, but for the trucking industry specifically.

President Trump got it right when he spoke to truckers this year in Pennsylvania – nothing gets done in this country without the hard work of the trucking industry,” Acosta said.

Noting the lack of skilled workers in industry today, Acosta spoke about Trump’s executive order earlier this year to create apprenticeship programs. While unemployment is near historic lows at 4.2%, there are still 6.1 million job openings today (247,000 in transportation and warehousing), Acosta said, and 7 million workers looking for jobs. The problem, he pointed out, is that the workers looking for jobs do not have the skills employers need.

The answer to that, the administration believes, is apprenticeship programs. Just 0.3% of American workers are apprentices, and the average age of apprentices is 28. “So they are not finding out about these programs until later in their careers,” Acosta said.

Advantages of apprenticeship programs are that the workers learn the skills they need to fill the jobs that are available.

“In your industry, you’ve established workforce training programs, but they are not apprenticeship programs,” Acosta said. “The trucking industry can play a key role in increasing apprenticeship opportunities across this country. Moving forward, the Department of Labor will bring together unions and trade associations, workers and businesses to develop programs.”

Acosta noted that previous administrations were not as friendly to apprenticeship programs.

“We will not micro-manage apprenticeships from Washington. You are in the best position to find what your industry needs and react to those needs. The bureaucratic barriers that stand between your industry and apprenticeships are coming down,” Acosta said.

Acosta opened his speech by praising the industry for its hard work in helping rebuild Texas and Florida following the recent hurricanes.

“Every day, America’s truckers work hard and you should be very proud,” he said.

During the course of the 15-minute address, Acosta mentioned efforts underway in Washington to help businesses and the economy grow.

“The Trump administration is working to address these challenges so your employees and businesses can flourish,” he noted, pointing out the administration’s efforts to reduce red tape.

Since Trump took office, Acosta said the nation has added 1.1 million net new jobs, GDP grew 3.1% in the second quarter, the stock market is at record highs and inflation remains low.

“This is great news for all Americans and all American job creators. But we can do more. We need to put our foot on the gas to accelerate this economy,” Acosta said.

Trump’s push for tax reform, which he initially outlined in front of trucking leaders at an ATA-sponsored event in Harrisburg, PA, two weeks ago, would simplify the tax code for all Americans, creating a fairer system, Acosta said. According to the secretary, three out of every four Americans do not itemize their taxes, preferring to take the standard deduction. Under the plan, the standard deduction would double for most Americans.

“Simpler taxes, lower taxes, and you get something back that is incredibly important – time – because you don’t have to itemize your taxes,” Acosta explained.

The plan would also lower business taxes – Trump has proposed cutting the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% – and allow firms to deduct the cost of new equipment immediately.

Acosta also explained Trump’s executive order on healthcare issued a few weeks ago.

“Your companies want to create great healthcare for the hardworking men and women of this industry,” he said. “Great benefits attract employees. However, many of you operate small businesses [and don’t have access to great healthcare due to cost].”

The president’s plan would allow associations to open up their healthcare plans to small businesses around the country. It also would not require those plans to meet current Affordable Care Act mandates, potentially leading to lower healthcare plan costs for businesses and employees.

“I welcome the president’s action on this important matter, because it matters to the American people,” Acosta said.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.