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The Palazzo Ballroom at the Venetian Hotel and Casino was the site for one of the most anticipated keynotes at CES on Tuesday afternoon. CTA CEO Gary Shapiro moderated a conversation with Ivanka Trump, advisor to the President of the United States. The two discussed the current state of the workforce, higher education, skills retraining, alternatives to university education, and immigration. These are all topics that have been under discussion within the electronics manufacturing industry for some time now.
Shapiro and Trump took seats in two club chairs carefully placed in the middle of the stage. Large video screens on each side of the stage provided close-ups of the conversant throughout the session. The atmosphere on stage quickly settled into a very comfortable, easy—albeit pre-planned—discussion.
The conversation started with the current state of the U.S. workforce. Trump identified the lack of a skilled workforce as the number one concern and cited some statistics: 160 million Americans are working, “there are more Americans working than ever,” more job vacancies exist than there are unemployed Americans, and about 73% of job vacancies are being filled with marginalized workers. The result is that skilled jobs are going unfilled for lack of qualified candidates.
Trump credits recent government/employer pledges and programs aimed at creating skilled workers to fill those job vacancies. She said, “Because wages are up and there’s more economic opportunity, people are coming off the sidelines; they’re going through these training programs and securing the skills that enable them to compete in the long term.” Shapiro echoed this point by stating, “In our industry—consumer technology—we have 2,000+ American companies on our rolls, and four out of five executives are concerned about filling the jobs they have today.”
Trump then shared that these positions (“7+ million of them”) are unfilled not for lack of workers—pointing out that “there are 6.5 million unemployed Americans”—but from a lack of the right skill sets. This, Trump said, is forcing employers to get creative. She cited that, at present, the workforce boasts the lowest percentage of unemployment for disabled workers ever, and work is underway in the Federal Government to build on the First Step Act to help the formerly incarcerated enter the workforce as well.
The Blue-collar Bloom
Trump followed these points by noting that wages are rising the fastest in the bottom quintile for blue-collar workers. Trump highlighted that there is an immediate need for employers to invest in training their workers to increase their technical skills in the immediate term, not just the long term, emphasizing that current workers could be doing “the same job using different equipment tomorrow.”
This led to Trump stating her belief that innovation creates more jobs and more job opportunities than it takes away. She then cautioned that it is “our responsibility” to anticipate where there will be technological disruption and begin to retrain workers in anticipation of that disruption. Trump called out companies who first lament not having enough skilled workers and then lay off large chunks of their underskilled workforce rather than investing in training those employees to step into the more skilled new positions, saying, “I have very little sympathy for that.”
To that end, Trump stressed the recent job creation commitments by major employers: over 400 companies committed to over 14 million training opportunities for their current workforce, upskilling and reskilling their current workforce, including a number of CTA member companies.
Trump shifted gears at this point, stating that training needs to come from the private sector. “What we know is that most of the Federal Government training programs don’t work. What does work is when the private sector teams up with a community college, technical school, university, or high school and develops a curriculum that is taught to students and then, ultimately, hires those students.” But what the Federal Government can do, for example, is create the National Council for the American Worker, bringing together the work of 14 different federal agencies to develop a national workforce strategy to combine efforts. Trump expects the national workforce strategy to be announced in the coming months.
The U.S. government, according to Trump, has committed an unprecedented amount of funding—$300 million—toward encouraging apprenticeship programs in areas like cybersecurity, tech support, and healthcare. “These are industries that should have apprenticeship systems but don’t,” noted Trump. Shapiro added that, in the CTA, 40 companies have signed up to participate in the IBM apprenticeship model programs.
Today, Shapiro mentioned, “It’s not about degrees; it’s about skills.” Trump agreed, stating, “We have the greatest university system in the world, and we’re proud of that. But we need people to know that there are other pathways.” She added, “If you’re a mid- to late-career worker who needs to learn a new skill to maintain relevancy, guess what? You’re not going back [to college].” In this economy, Trump pointed out, over the course of an entire career, workers may need retraining multiple times throughout their lifetime.
Trump went on to propose a “major shift in our thinking” toward a skills-based and credentials-focused perspective amongst HR department policies. She also suggested the idea that Pell Grants should be made available to a wider range of educational opportunities, like returning prisoners, or shorter certification programs and degrees. Trump also called for disruptive thinking in training programs and hiring requirements for manufacturing jobs, noting that there are 500,000 vacant skilled jobs in manufacturing in the U.S. that are well paid and do not require a college degree.
Further, Trump explained that “we need to harness technology” to enable workers’ training and skillsets to follow the worker and not get lost in the internal company records at a former employer. Trump called this an “interoperable learning record” and suggested that it could even be “loaded onto your phone” so that it could be passed to an employer in lieu of calling for verification and references, “empowering the individual.” She also floated the idea that, with interoperable learning records, a system could be put in place to push-notify individuals of jobs in their zip code that match their individual skillsets automatically.
Then, Shapiro said about government hiring, “The Federal Government is the largest purchaser of technology, and when you’re doing an IT project for the government they’re always requiring all these degrees,” to which Trump responded, “We’re changing a lot of that.” From there, Shapiro and Trump chatted briefly about childcare credits, family leave, and wrapped up the thirty-minute session to applause.