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Trump puts focus on Wisconsin’s growing apprentice program

FILE - In this April 18, 2017 file photo, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker right, presents President Donald Trump with a Milwaukee Buck basketball hat and jersey as he arrives in Kenosha, Wis. Trump will join Walker Tuesday, June 13, 2017 to tour Waukesha County Technical College and talk about the importance of providing on-the-job training to workers in industries that sometimes struggle to find qualified people. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker once told then-candidate Donald Trump “we don’t need an apprentice in the White House.”

But on Tuesday the president and his daughter Ivanka Trump will join Walker to tour Waukesha County Technical College and talk about the importance of providing on-the-job training to workers in industries that sometimes struggle to find qualified people.

Wisconsin was the first state in the country to pass a law establishing apprenticeship programs in 1911, the same year what is now the technical college system was created. Now there are 11,000 adults and 3,500 high school students in apprenticeship programs overseen by the state.

Eric Haban, 35, started as a youth apprentice as a junior in high school and then completed a four-year program at Lakeshore Technical College, located in between Sheboygan and Manitowoc. He learned to be a machinist for LDI Industries, a Manitowoc-based company that makes hydraulic components and lubricating equipment.

“It really gave me a jump start to get into a field that I had no prior experience in,” said Haban, who now coordinates apprentice programs for the company.

LDI Industries always struggled with larger companies poaching its workers for slightly higher pay, but saw investing in apprenticeship programs as a way to attract and retain more workers, said John Lukas, the company’s vice president of manufacturing.

“We’re really using that as a marketing tool to say everyone isn’t cut out for a four-year college,” Lukas said.

Interest in the state’s apprenticeship programs is growing. Adult participation is up 6 percent from 2015 and includes participation from 2,400 employers. The goal is to double or triple those numbers, said state Department of Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen.

He hopes the Trump visit is a sign that his administration will bolster support for apprenticeship programs. Wisconsin’s apprenticeship programs have an annual state budget of about $1.8 million, but federal grants are used to support expansion efforts.

Walker has long touted Wisconsin’s apprenticeship programs as a way to address workplace shortages. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate of 3.2 percent is the lowest it’s been since 2000, but there are about 97,000 job openings posted on the state website.

“There aren’t enough people to fill the jobs and the people applying don’t have the skills necessary,” said Conor Smyth, spokesman for the Wisconsin Technical College System. The shortages cut across multiple job sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, information technology and health care, he said.

The state’s technical colleges work closely with the Wisconsin DWD to create programs where there is need in the industrial, construction and service sectors. Participants generally complete the program between two and five years and are paid both for their time on the job and in the classroom.

Participation in Wisconsin’s apprenticeship program in the 16 technical colleges has increased 36 percent since 2013, according to the technical college system’s most recent annual report released in January. There were 669 graduates statewide in 2015 and of those 409 worked in construction, 204 in industry like electricians and mechanics, and 56 in services like cosmetology.

The annual median salary for those who had completed the apprenticeship program statewide as of 2015 was about $67,600.

While Walker and Trump will be touting the value of apprenticeships together on Tuesday, that wasn’t always the case. Walker used Trump’s past job on the television show “The Apprentice” against him when they were both running for president in 2015. That’s when Walker told Trump at a Republican presidential debate that the country didn’t need an apprentice in the White House.

Their relationship has improved since then.

Walker went on to endorse Trump for president and after Tuesday’s technical college tour the president planned to host a $1,000 per-person fundraiser for Walker’s re-election campaign. Photos with Trump cost $10,000.

Walker planned to join with eight other governors for a discussion with Trump about workforce issues at the White House on Thursday as part of the president’s weeklong focus on the issue.

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