Ivanka Trump: Executives Must Train Americans Before Asking for More Immigrants

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 7: Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the President, at The Path To The Future Of Work Keynote Talk during CES 2020 at the Palazzo Ballroom at The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 7, 2020. Credit: Damairs Carter/MediaPunch /IPX
AP/Damairs Carter/MediaPunch /IPX

A tight labor market is good for Americans because it forces companies to train their workforces and to recruit sidelined Americans, Ivanka Trump told the annual meeting of the consumer electronics industry.

“I love what’s happening because it’s forcing employers to get creative,” Trump told Gary Shapiro, the longtime CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, during an interview at its annual meeting in Las Vegas. 

Shapiro prodded Trump to endorse his industry’s repeated demands for an increased inflow of skilled migrants. But Trump responded by saying that immigration:

…can’t displace the investment that needs to be made in the core skills of marginalized Americans. So that’s where we have to be careful. We need to do both. We need to recruit and retain the greatest talent in the world to help us grow and innovate, but we need to invest in American workers and reach over to the sidelines, draw them into our workforce, and equip them with the skills that they need to start to to thrive. And we can’t just seek to import that.

With a smile, Trump repeatedly rebuked employers for not training Americans to use new technology:

I’m a big believer in innovation, and the positive impact that productivity has on an economy, and fighting for American dominance in the industries of the future.

With that said, it is our responsibility as we think about this country and the health of all Americans to be anticipating where there will be [technology] disruption, whether it’s long term or short term, and coming up with a plan to help transition those people. So when I hear employers [who] would come to me and they’d say, ‘We need more skilled workers, we need more skilled workers,’ and then I’d read about them laying off segments of their workforce because they were investing in productivity, and not having spent the time — when they had known three years prior they’d be making that investment and upgrading those systems — not taking the time to take those workers and reskill and then retrain them into their job vacancies, well, I have very little sympathy for that.

“There really is this blue-collar boom that is taking place in this country …If you look at where wages are rising … They’re rising the fastest for blue-collar workers,” she said. Executives “need to be thinking about investing in their current workforce so that they can enable those people to do their same job using different equipment tomorrow.”

She pushed executives to return the public’s favor of tax cuts by spending more on training: 

It’s not enough to come to us and say ‘Thank you for cutting taxes to ensure that we’re competitive in a global marketplace and that we’re able to compete. Thank you for creating the enabling environment by being thoughtful about regulation and eliminating redundant regulation that doesn’t achieve its desired goals, but ‘we need more workers and we’re not willing to make the investment [in training].’

Companies must treat their employees like family members, she said:

But we need to make people internalize this as a poor obligation of an employer. Increasingly, there is a drive within corporations you see it with the [Business Roundtable] to think about what is their social impact. And I would say the most important social impact you should be opining on is the health and the prosperity, and the commitment you have to your own family, your own workforce. So we’re pushing employers to do that.

Shapiro said Trump’s pressure is working on executives and companies. “My empathy [for employees’ concerns] is probably very low, and I know I have to work on it,” he said:

You know when we met at the White House in March [2019], I was talking to you about all the great benefits of technology. I was talking about the book we had published last year which described it fully about artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, robotics, and you turned [to me] and you said: ‘This is all great. But what about the people who are the factory workers and the drivers and the clerks who are concerned that they may be left behind by this technology generation,’ and you actually challenged me, and the reason I’m disclosing this publicly is because the paperback version is out today, and it has a chapter that is added because of you, which is about the workforce of the future.

Trump’s comments come as the White House officials try to draft a 2020 immigration reform proposal amid competing pressures from voters, employees, and investors. 

Ken Cuccinelli, a top official at the Department of Homeland Security, told the Christian Science Monitor in October:

There is a lot of pressure in various sectors to utilize more immigrant labor for employment, whether it is for high-tech or low-tech in the economy … [but the president] has also made clear that is is important to protect ordinary American workers and to not displace them.

Finding the right balance between helping American workers and American investors is a constant political dilemma, Cuccinelli said:

Is there some perfect [balanced] target point in every industry? Maybe there is, but we’re never going to be able to know it. So which side do you err on? And he has repeatedly emphasized how important it is to protect U.S. workers. Now’s he been clear with me, as well, and you all have heard him say it: he wants to see economic growth and dynamism. And that means, you know, growing companies needing to fill slots. So we’re just in a constant battle to balance those things.

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