Ivanka Trump has opened the White House doors and her father’s administration to companies that participate in a worker-training initiative she’s led, even as the president adopts policies that labor unions say would weaken apprenticeships.
The president and his daughter, who is a senior adviser in the White House, celebrated the anniversary of her “Pledge to America’s Workers” program late last month. More than 300 companies including Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., WalMart Inc., Salesforce.com Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. have agreed to train more than 12 million people, the White House says.
Participating in the program may score the companies goodwill and even face-time with a president who sometimes considers policies that would hurt them. For example, Trump has threatened to slap tariffs against cars Toyota imports to the U.S. and on iPhones imported from China, and he’s criticized the price of weapons Lockheed makes for the military, its most important customer.
For the companies, participation is low-risk. Much of the training would have been done in the absence of Ivanka Trump’s initiative, some companies say, and the program sets few standards for employers to meet and carries no repercussions if they fall short. After signing pledges, participating companies have received visits from Ivanka Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and members of the president’s cabinet, as well as invitations to the White House.
The president has touted the pledge as part of his economic agenda on the campaign trail.
“Republicans believe that a nation must care for its own citizens first,” he said at a rally in Cincinnati last week. “Our pledge to America’s workers has secured commitments to train more than 12 million Americans for the jobs of tomorrow. You know who’s working very hard on that? You’ve probably never heard of her -- Ivanka Trump.”
The initiative, which has no federal funding, has also helped Trump make clear that he considers employee training the responsibility of the private sector. The Department of Labor recently proposed a regulation that would allow employers to set their own standards for apprenticeship programs, a proposal the administration says would expand such opportunities for workers.
The AFL-CIO, though, said the new rules “could decimate training and labor standards in registered apprenticeship programs across the country.” The proposal would “give employers license to implement whatever low-road standards they see fit,” said Carolyn Bobb, a spokeswoman for the group.
Jessica Ditto, a White House spokeswoman, said in a statement Friday that “the pledge has been a catalyst to create over 12 million training and education opportunities for future and current workers and should be applauded by all.”
An official who asked not to be identified said that the program is designed as a call-to-action, that the private sector is better suited than government to handle training, and that companies’ pledges are vetted before being accepted. The official rejected the AFL-CIO’s view, saying the proposed new apprenticeship rules would expand the program to companies that previously found it unworkable.
Executives at companies and industry groups that have signed it say the pledge at the very least helps draw attention to the need to train and re-train workers in an economy with near-record low unemployment. White House events celebrating the initiative have included heartfelt testimonials from workers who were promoted after receiving technical training.
Todd Thibodeaux leads an association of IT companies that offers training programs for a sector starved for workers. Known as Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), it pledged 625,000 worker certifications for the White House program. Thibodeaux was invited to the White House in July to sign his group’s pledge.
“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,” Thibodeaux said. The tech sector needs to do more to open doors for new workers, even if they don’t have a college degree, he said.
“If 500 people find out about CompTIA because we did the pledge, and that helps them get a job, it’s a huge win for us,” he said.
Several companies that have signed pledges acknowledge their commitments include training they’d planned on doing already, to varying degrees. Toyota pledged to train 200,000 workers, saying it would “broaden our training and keep closer track of our numbers,” while declining to specify how much of the training would be new.
Ivanka Trump visited the company’s car plant in Kentucky for a March signing event, and welcomed one of the company’s executives to the White House again in July.
Apple pledged 10,000 opportunities, and CEO Tim Cook serves on the board. Trump has praised Cook recently, and predicted the company would build a manufacturing plant in Texas. The company said the pledge was for new training: “an additional 10,000 people as part of our ongoing initiatives with community colleges in the United States.”
Microsoft also pledged 10,000 opportunities, and a spokesperson declined to say how many were actually new. The two companies are America’s biggest by market capitalization, likely giving them clout with any administration, though their pledges are far outpaced by other smaller firms.
Salesforce pledged 500,000 training opportunities, including through its free online learning platform, and then doubled its commitment to 1,000,000 as Ivanka Trump visited the company’s Indianapolis facility. Spokespeople for the company declined to say what share of the training is new.
She also visited a Siemens AG facility in North Carolina after the company pledged 75,000 training opportunities and a Lockheed Martin site after it pledged 8,000, which a spokesperson for Lockheed, Krista Alestock, said is a mix of existing and expanded training programs. Lockheed’s CEO, Marillyn Hewson, took part in the July event at the White House.
A Siemens spokesperson referred to a news release that said its pledge would “expand the company’s U.S. education and training opportunities, reaching more than 75,000 workers and students over the next five years.”
Alestock said Lockheed has so far met 23 percent of its five-year pledge, creating a total of 1,900 apprenticeships, “early career and mid-career opportunities” and high school internships.
In addition to Pence, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, acting Small Business Administrator Chris Pilkerton and former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta have all held events with companies that have signed Ivanka Trump’s job pledge.
Walmart pledged 1,000,000 opportunities, which includes a mix of two-week courses for store associates and other programs. It’s not all new training spurred only by the pledge.
“It was the first time that we had publicly committed to a specific number on our training programs,” spokesman Kory Lundberg said. “Anytime there’s a chance to bring attention to this issue of workforce skilling, we want to be involved in that.”
The pledges -- largely unconstrained by rules or close oversight -- look poised to rise. Ivanka Trump welcomes them from virtually any sector and at a wide range of numbers, while offering the carrot of a supportive message -- some companies have put her name on press releases -- or a visit to the White House for firms and industry groups that make commitments.
“So, congratulations, Ivanka, congratulations, and keep it up. So, when will you hit 24 million?” the president asked at the White House in July. She replied: “At this pace, very soon.”