IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, who is on Trump’s advisory panel of business leaders, joined Facebook Inc.’s Sheryl Sandberg, Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos and Alphabet Inc.’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt at a summit with Trump Wednesday in New York that is said to focus on jobs.
During the run-up to the election, Trump made employment issues a mainstay of his campaign, promising to scrap trade deals he viewed as draining jobs from the country and impose tariffs on imports if necessary. He has since claimed credit for preventing thousands of manufacturing jobs from moving overseas and used state incentives to strike a deal with Carrier, a unit of United Technologies Corp., to pull back on its plans to move some operations to Mexico.
Rometty is continuing what is emerging as a formula among technology companies: in conjunction with meetings with Trump in his Manhattan tower, pledge to create jobs and invest billions of dollars in the U.S., even if the plans had already been in the works since before he was elected. The advantage for companies is that it can deflect criticism from the new administration that the industry is shifting jobs offshore, while also giving Trump a way to take credit for job creation goals that may have little to do with his election.
IBM said in March it had more than 25,000 positions open globally and that it had started to cut some jobs in the U.S. as part of a “workforce rebalancing” in an effort to add staff with cloud and other specific skills.
Over the past few years, IBM -- like many large U.S.-based companies -- has been criticized for eliminating thousands of jobs in the country and moving resources to places such as India. The company reported fewer employees at the end of 2013 than the beginning of the year for the first time in a decade, and reduced its total workforce by 12 percent the next year. IBM said it hired more U.S. employees last year than it had in the five years prior.
In an op-ed piece in USA Today, Rometty said many technology jobs don’t require an advanced degree and she encouraged government investment in vocational education and training.
“We are hiring because the nature of work is evolving,” Rometty wrote. That’s also why many of the jobs are hard to fill, she said. “What matters most is that these employees – with jobs such as cloud computing technicians and services delivery specialists – have relevant skills, often obtained through vocational training.”
IBM has been honing its vision for training for months and it’s unrelated to the election or the meeting Wednesday, the company said. Armonk, New York-based International Business Machines Corp. has been working on hiring for and preparing its employees in skills required to adapt to the newer areas of its business, such as cloud computing, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. For example, about a third of its workforce will have learned by the end of this year design thinking, a problem-solving method favored by many tech startups.
The dynamics of the global labor market have been changing, and there are large numbers of unfilled tech-related jobs in the U.S., Rometty said. The disconnect comes from the lack of people with the requisite skills, she said.
“As industries from manufacturing to agriculture are reshaped by data science and cloud computing, jobs are being created that demand new skills – which in turn requires new approaches to education, training and recruiting,” she wrote.
In the op-ed, Rometty called for an update in early 2017 to the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which provides federal funding to vocation and technical programs. She also highlighted an education model -- that IBM helped design -- of a six-year public high school, which combines traditional coursework, community college classes and internships focused on preparing students for technical jobs. IBM will work with states to open at least 20 more of these schools in the next year, she wrote.
“We will need new kinds of collaboration – involving federal and state governments, public school systems, community colleges and private business, across multiple industries,” she said.