I’m going to focus on one topic this week because it is an issue needing extreme focus.
In my August 8 recap, White House Skills Gap Pledge Falls Short, While Georgia Steps Up, I made the point that Georgia’s training program is having positive impact on reskilling that state’s workforce, while the current administration’s Pledge Initiative to “train and reskill workers for the jobs of tomorrow” was without substance and seemed to be more along the lines of a dog-and-pony-show. Now an August 12 article titled Ivanka Trump’s Jobs Effort Opens White House Doors for Companies promotes that the administration’s initiative has resulted in more than 300 companies—including Apple, Microsoft, Walmart, Salesforce.com, Lockheed Martin, and Toyota—to agreeing to train more than 12 million people with the implication that the cited training is “new.” Hmm.
In my writings, I try to steer clear of taking political positions or focusing on individuals. Rather, I attempt to give my take on governmental policies based on facts, as well as to attribute successes or failures to organizations so that readers will not feel I’m taking pot shots at individuals. I occasionally make exceptions to these rules as when earlier this year I gave President Donald Trump personal kudos for taking on the issue of China’s unfair trade practices. But this article will lay out another exception. As per the August 12 article, President Trump not only claimed that because of his administration’s Pledge Initiative, hundreds of companies had made new commitments to train their employees. To boot, he said that Ivanka Trump deserves all the credit for making this happen. The reason I’m making an exception in this article is that the president decided to make it personal by giving credit for the success of his program to his daughter.
Let’s talk facts. I’ll use the companies cited in the president’s remarks as examples to support the positions I take below. First let’s look at the 200,000 workers Toyota has pledged to train. While a Toyota company spokesman declines to say how “much of that training would be new,” anyone who knows anything about how Toyota operates understands that training is—and has always been—a top priority of theirs. And the training they provide is top-notch, giving their workforce the skills to both remain current with what they need to successfully compete in today’s economy and to prepare them for even better jobs down the line. What people may not know is that Toyota has offered training to both their own employees and those of strategic suppliers. When I benchmarked them in 2006, a Toyota leader told me they provide training to workers and suppliers in numbers well over six figures a year. So if that still holds true, their pledge to Ivanka is nothing more than to continue a program that is already in existence.
Let’s talk about Walmart next. The one million “opportunities for training” that Walmart has pledged is not all-new training spurred only by the Ivanka’s Pledge Initiative. Rather, according to a Walmart spokesman, “It was the first time that we had publicly committed to a specific number on our training programs” which, I suppose, is a good thing. But if you read the fine print of that statement Walmart isn’t pledging to give one million of their employees training. Rather, it pledges to offer opportunities to their employees for training.
It’s’ difficult for me to imagine that Walmart employees are being trained for the jobs of tomorrow, as the President says Ivanka’s initiative is facilitating. Admittedly, I have no knowledge of the specifics of the training they will be offering but, from my experience at shopping at Walmart, their employees are usually engaged in tasks like stocking shelves and bringing carts back in the from parking lot. So is the point of that company’s training program to facilitate Walmart associates becoming more efficient at those tasks? If not, what is it? If so, that type of training isn’t what this country needs to remain competitive with workers in other countries.
If Walmart really wanted to position their employees for jobs of the future, they’d hire them for full-time 40-hour-a-week jobs rather than having a significantly high percentage of them part-timers without benefits. This is not a case where they don’t have enough business to hire full-time employees. Rather it’s a strategy of the company to increase profits without sharing them with their workers. Without a full-time job, many Walmart employees need to work second and sometimes third jobs to survive. If Walmart transitioned from hiring fewer people but giving full-time employment, employees would have more income and personal time and have more opportunity to pursue their own training outside of their employer.
The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) has pledged 625,000 worker certifications to Ivanka’s program. Their training seems to be just what is needed relative to the competitiveness of American workers. The president of the association, however, is quoted in the article as saying, “For us, it was a continuation of things we were going to do anyway, that we were already doing, but an opportunity for us to pledge our commitment.” Doesn’t sound to me like the Ivanka’s Pledge Initiative has at all impacted CompTIA’s training program.
I could go on and on. Read the article and you’ll see similar stories from most of the companies cited. In other words, many are pledging to continue employee training that is already in progress. And, as I made the point in the August 8 recap, small- and medium-sized companies are the ones most needing assistance with employee training and you don’t see any of them listed in the companies called out in this article. Go figure.
I believe in giving credit where credit is due. I, in fact, wrote an article in January 2015 titled Give Credit Where Credit Is Due. But there is another side to that coin, namely, calling out when credit is not due. The Ivanka’s Pledge Program is certainly a case of the latter.
President Reagan once said:
“It's amazing what you can accomplish with pride and unselfishness—where you have people who don't care who gets the credit.”
At least in this instance, President Trump seems to be taking the opposite view. Something along the lines of:
“Even when nothing has really been accomplished, make that claim that something has, and then position yourself to take personal credit for having made it happen.”
And, a personal note, there is probably no one I’d less rather have overseeing a program for reskilling American workers than Ivanka Trump. Why? It’s difficult for me to stretch my mind to think she has any real knowledge or experience in this area. Would she even be able to detail any of the training programs of the companies signing the Pledge—or is her role more of as a sales person?
Bottom line. President Trump believes that the federal government should have no real role—"no skin in the game”—relative to re-skilling America’s workers. I believe differently and so have an issue with the administration’s policy.
Some reading this will feel I’ve laid out a political position in writing the above. I can see that, especially if you are of the mind that government has no role in business. All I can say to that is check out what involvement other countries have in upskilling their citizens and the positive impact those programs have had on their economy, and you’ll see a real disconnect between what the approach being touted by the Administration and what has proven very successful elsewhere.
This is an important issue. I guess with the President’s latest dog-and-pony-show, I’ve reached the same point as Howard Beale in the 1975 film Network. Relative to a “hands off” governmental policy on re-skilling American workers;
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Someone has to call out that, on this issue, “the king has no clothes” and elevate the huge gap in the Administration’s position on this issue, as well as its importance to the American worker and future economic fortunes of this country. I’ve tried to do that here, and I hope this column will energize others to also do so.
Paul Ericksen is IndustryWeek’s supply chain advisor. He has 38 years of experience in industry, primarily in supply management at two large original equipment manufacturers.