Jamie Dimon’s harried JPMorgan Chase pushes campaign for worker training


JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon: “There’s nothing more important than” aiding the economy and employment. (MIKE THEILER/REUTERS)

Jamie Dimon has no problem finding skilled workers to hire. That’s true even though his bank, JPMorgan Chase, has run into all sorts of trouble with federal regulators, and it’s true even though the firm fills tens of thousands of jobs around the world every year.

And yet — on a day last month when news broke that JPMorgan was preparing to spend $2 billion to settle a federal investigation related to Bernard L. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme — Dimon came to Washington to unveil a five-year, $250 million effort to boost worker training around the world. The money will help local governments quantify the skills that local businesses need workers to acquire, to help companies grow in the region. It will also help institutions such as community colleges ramp up their programs to train prospective workers in those areas.

As Dimon noted in an interview after the announcement, this “skills gap” — the complaint that businesses simply cannot find the workers they need to fill millions of open jobs (at a wage level that the businesses are willing to pay) — is something you hear a lot about from manufacturing and tech companies. Not so much from banks.

But the chief executive of JPMorgan estimated that such a gap may be holding back economic growth and keeping unemployment a percentage point or two higher than it otherwise could be. He also said it’s the classic role of a bank to help bridge those structural holes in the economy.

“There’s nothing more important than that,” he said. “And obviously the biggest [benefit], if it works, is jobs. So this is a very specific effort to say, what could we do even more to help jobs?”

At JPMorgan, he said, “we spend almost $300 million a year [on training]. My guess is, that completely understates the number. We hire 40,000 people a year. We hire them at all different levels. Even if you come out of Harvard Business School, we put you into 12 weeks of modeling and mathematics and statistics.

“I think businesses do a tremendous amount of training. Big businesses in particular do a tremendous amount of training. And sometimes — I haven’t studied it — some of it might be remedial. They’re doing it because the people could have had those skills coming out of their college or something like that, but they didn’t. Some of it is very specific — they’re going to learn our programs and our businesses. They’re not going to learn that in high school or college.”

Here is more of the conversation with Dimon, edited for length.

Q: Increasingly, the public sector is being called on to supply worker training that benefits individual companies. Why?

A: “You talk about the skills gap. If I travel all around America, a lot of people talk about the skills gap. We don’t see it ourselves that much. But that’s different. We’re a different kind of company. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. But if you go to Silicon Valley, they will talk about nothing but the lack of — they used to call them computer engineers, now they call them software writers. If you go to some of the manufacturing companies, they’ll talk about the lack of technical skills.”

But do you think companies are doing enough on their own to train workers to have these advanced skills, compared to looking to colleges or whatever to do it?

“That’s part of what we’re going to learn in the data. My guess is [that] big companies do, but there are other ones who can’t really afford it.”

So why is this so important? Again, you’re a company that doesn’t see much of a skills gap in terms of hiring.

“You’re right. But we help companies and cities and schools and states and hospitals. Our job is not just to worry about JPMorgan’s employment. Our job is to worry about the development of a community.

“I got asked a question the other day — well, the company’s having a very tough time. We are. But we’ve been doing this 200 years. We’re not going to stop and start every time the company has a problem.”

Jim Tankersley is the editor of Storyline, where he explains complex public policies and illuminates their human impact. He's from Oregon, and he misses it.
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