(Press Associates Union News Service) A bipartisan duo of Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced legislation to let businesses take a $5,000-per-worker tax credit for three years for every newly trained apprentice they hire. 

Their measure, unveiled June 14, came as GOP President Donald Trump highlighted what he called “Workforce Development Week” with an executive order – which does not have the permanence of law – telling his Labor Department to increase number of apprenticeships it funds by easing up entry standards.

Building trades unions run many of those apprenticeship programs. They could benefit indirectly as participating contractors would use the tax credits.

“This bill kicks apprenticeship into high gear by establishing the first- ever national incentive for apprentice programs,” Cantwell explained. “It will help close our skills gap, get more Americans back to work, raise wages, and allow our companies to continue to make the best products in the world Expanding apprenticeship has bipartisan support and we hope the administration will join us in this effort."

“Few issues are as the availability of good jobs in our communities,” added Collins. “Apprenticeships are a proven way to help workers secure good-paying jobs by providing them with skills that are invaluable to employers. Our legislation would encourage businesses to pursue this successful model as well as ensure that veterans can apply their previous training to apprenticeship programs.”

Apprenticeship training has declined by half since 1990, a fact sheet from Cantwell says. Meanwhile, two-thirds of manufacturers told their lobby they have “a shortage of available, qualified workers,” especially skilled workers. And the Labor Department reports workers who finish apprenticeships earn an average of $240,000 more in wages over a lifetime than job seekers with similar work experience but without the apprenticeship training.

To ensure apprentices are successfully trained, the Cantwell-Collins bill also would let workers aged 55 or over who are nearing retirement draw their pensions early, without penalty, if they spend at least one-fifth of their time mentoring or training new workers.

U.S. building trades unions had no immediate comment on the legislation, but liked Trump’s executive order announcement. Trump Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta told reporters, two days before Cantwell and Collins acted, that “If you look into building trades, there’s almost $1 billion that’s spent every year, and that’s all private sector money.

“The building trades have put together labor-management organizations that jointly invest in these apprenticeship programs because they know both on the labor side and the management side that a skilled workforce is critical to the building trades.  And that’s how it’s worked for a number of years,” Acosta said.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., top Democrat on the House panel that handles workers’ issues, welcomed Trump’s order, which preceded the legislation. But he said Trump’s order had a few holes.

“While I join the president in calling for the expansion of such (apprenticeship) programs, the federal government must ensure we maintain meaningful accountability for program quality and outcomes. Unfortunately, parts of the executive order fail to maintain necessary quality controls and accountability requirements,” said Scott.