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In President Trump’s former life as a reality TV star, he was famous for promoting apprenticeships. Now, that’s something Trump and tech companies have in common.
IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty will take the stage at CES today to unveil a widespread industry effort to expand apprenticeships training workers in digital skills such as cybersecurity or software engineering in an effort to prepare them for careers at technology companies.
Seventeen companies, including IBM, Ford, Canon, Sprint, Postmates and Bosch, have committed to expand apprenticeships to thousands of workers across 20 states to help fill a shortage of trained tech talent. IBM is seen as a leader in the coalition after launching its own apprenticeship program more than a year ago, and Rometty will say the company is doubling those apprenticeships to train between 400 and 450 workers per year, according to a preview provided to The Technology 202.
“This industry has not traditionally relied on apprenticeships as a talent solution,” said Jennifer Taylor, vice president of jobs at the Consumer Technology Association, which is leading the coalition of companies. Such programs have been traditionally limited to sectors like manufacturing or other blue-collar trades.
The initiative could mark a rare area of consensus for Silicon Valley and the Trump administration on labor issues. Trump's stances on immigration and efforts to crack down on high-skilled worker visas have stoked fears about recruiting and retaining top engineering talent from around the world in Silicon Valley. Trump has also slammed technology companies such as Apple for outsourcing the production of its products to China as he pushes his agenda to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States.
It could also be a politically savvy solution in the long term. Apprenticeships enjoy wide bipartisan support. And after starring for more than a decade in “The Apprentice,” Trump has been a key supporter of such programs in office, too. He signed an executive order in 2017 expanding apprenticeships. Politico reported at the time that the order shifted more power to private industry to run apprenticeship programs, while at the same time increasing grants for such positions, from $90 million to close to $200 million.
The tech industry push seems poised to benefit from government money. IBM already has 15 different kinds of apprenticeships registered with the Labor Department, a progress that allows companies to gain funding through grants or tax credits for the programs. Other companies in the coalition are just starting to go through the process to offer these kinds of apprenticeships.
The push for retraining workers comes at the same time as companies invest heavily in technologies such as artificial intelligence, which could eventually upend a wide range of jobs from truck drivers to radiologists. In the future, technology companies could face greater pressure to retrain the workers they’re displacing, especially as backlash mounts against the industry.
Darrell West, the author of “The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation,” told me in an email that apprenticeships are “a great way to retrain workers losing jobs through automation.”
“They provide concrete job skills and connections to new companies that are invaluable in job searches,” he said. “Businesses know they are getting well-trained and reliable employees through these programs.”
With apprenticeship programs, technology companies can bring in recent high school or community college graduates, as well as more experienced professionals who are seeking to shift careers. IBM’s apprentices have ranged in age from 18 to 59, and they have included a firefighter and veterans. The workers learn new skills while earning a paycheck, avoiding the hefty debt that often comes with enrolling in college. The programs generally last about a year, and they intend to prepare the apprentices for traditional full-time employment at the company.
Another potential benefit to Silicon Valley: Attracting more diverse workers. The technology industry is facing backlash for its lack of diversity, with its largely white and male workforce concentrated on the coasts. IBM has hired 188 apprentices since launching its own initiative a little more than a year ago. Jordan tells me these apprentices hail from Missouri, West Virginia and Minnesota. They range in age from 18 to 59. About 30 percent are underrepresented minorities and 13 percent are veterans.
Taylor, from the CTA, said the organization is hopeful that apprenticeships could have a similar effect at other companies. “It will have a tremendous impact on diversifying the industry,” she said.
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BITS: Facebook is investigating whether News for Democracy, an organization backed by Democratic megadonor and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, ran afoul of the social network's rules by creating deceitful news pages containing left-leaning political messages, The Washington Post's Tony Romm, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg reported. A review of Facebook's ad archive found that some pages from News for Democracy targeted right-leaning U.S. voters with Democratic messages.
A New York University analysis found that the organization's Facebook ads and affiliated pages were viewed millions of times during last year's midterm elections. “These groups find a community, they try to build it with nonpolitical content, and once they have that community established, they start inserting political messages,” Laura Edelson, one of the NYU researchers, told my colleagues.
Hoffman also has ties to another initiative that has faced mounting scrutiny recently. An investment from the Internet billionaire ended up funding an online operation to spread disinformation and influence a U.S. Senate race in Alabama in 2017. Hoffman has said he did not support such tactics.
NIBBLES: Tesla broke ground for a new factory in China east of Shanghai as Elon Musk's electric vehicle company seeks to become a global carmaker, the Wall Street Journal's Trefor Moss reported. In a tweet, Musk said his goal is for the plant to start production of the Model 3 by the end of the year and “reach high volume production next year.”
Shanghai Giga will produce affordable versions of 3/Y for greater China. All Model S/X & higher cost versions of Model 3/Y will still be built in US for WW market, incl China.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 7, 2019
Tesla's Shanghai factory, which aims to produce 500,000 cars annually, will be the first fully foreign-owned car plant in China. “Being the first to go it alone will make Tesla a bellwether in the Chinese auto sector, as other companies weigh the costs and benefits of sticking with their established joint-venture partnerships,” Moss wrote.
But this approach is not without risk, according to Bill Russo, chief executive of the consulting firm Automobility, which is based in Shanghai. “It will take billions of dollars to build a new footprint in China,” Russo told the Journal. “As 100% owner, this burden falls on Tesla.” Musk intends to spend $5 billion on the Shanghai plant, according to Bloomberg News's Benedikt Kammel and Yan Zhang.
BYTES: The CES technology show is set to feature many smart home products that tech companies praise as convenient, but privacy advocates worry about the devices' capacity to collect detailed and personal information on users, according to the Associated Press's Anick Jesdanun. “It’s decentralized surveillance,” Jeff Chester, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Digital Democracy, told the AP. “We’re living in a world where we’re tethered to some online service stealthily gathering our information.”
The items set to be displayed at CES include a toothbrush that identifies where you should brush more and a fishing rod that can spot where you're catching the most fish. Yet Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, expressed skepticism about the necessity of connected devices. “I’m a firm believer that simple is better. If you don’t need to have these so-called enhancements, don’t buy them,” Stephens told Jesdanun. “Does one really need a refrigerator that keeps track of everything in it and tells you you are running out of milk?”
— Apple isn't attending CES, but it is taunting Google with a huge billboard in Las Vegas, according to my colleague Hamza Shaban. “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone,” the billboard says as a way to communicate the company's commitment to user privacy. The ad is also a reference to the city's slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
— The “best-smelling booth” at CES's media event this year, according to one reporter, was the BreadBot, which does exactly what you think it does. It is “a bread-making machine that mixes, kneads, bakes and cools bread without human assistance,” according to The Post's Peter Holley. Randall Wilkinson, chief executive of Wilkinson Baking, which created the machine, said the company intends to place the BreadBot in a partner store this year but declined to name the store. Wilkinson also said that “three of the top five grocery store companies in the U.S.” have expressed interest in testing the BreadBot, Peter reported.
— Kroger is testing two stores in Cincinnati and Redmond, Wash., where a partnership with Microsoft aims to bring more data-crunching to the aisles of a supermarket and make grocery shopping faster, according to Bloomberg News's Matthew Boyle and Dina Bass. The initiative will allow Microsoft to develop its cloud business and will help Kroger defend itself against Amazon's expansion into food retail. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Post.)
Kroger's self-checkout app will guide customers at the two test stores — which are located near the headquarters of Kroger and Microsoft — till they reach items on their shopping list. “When they enter an aisle, the digital shelf will display a personalized icon chosen by the shopper — a banana, say, or a pumpkin — below the relevant product,” Boyle and Bass wrote.
— Two experts said they overestimated the impact of the gig economy on the way Americans work, according to the Wall Street Journal's Josh Zumbrun. The experts, Alan Krueger of Princeton University and Lawrence Katz of Harvard University, said their estimates on the share of workers making a living with odd jobs — including through apps such as Uber — in a 2015 survey were probably too high.
“After sifting through the new evidence,” Krueger said, “Larry Katz and I now conclude that there was a modest rise in the share of the workforce in nontraditional jobs over the last decade — probably on the order of one to 2 percentage points, instead of the five percentage point rise we originally reported.”
The overestimation stemmed from patchy data and also resulted from the effects of the economic recession a decade ago. “Rather than heralding a permanent shift in the relationship of Americans to employers, a lot of gig-economy activity was odd jobs that people took up to make ends meet,” Zumbrun wrote.
— More technology news from the private sector:
— Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross denied that Apple's recent announcement that it was lowering quarterly sales estimates is tied to trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing, according to CNBC's Sara Salinas. Apple chief executive Tim Cook said in a letter to investors last week that the company “did not foresee the magnitude of the economic deceleration” in Greater China.
“I don't think Apple's earnings miss had anything to do with the present trade talks,” Ross said on CNBC's “Squawk Box.” “Think about it, there have been no tariffs put on Apple products. So that's not it.”
— Lisa Herbold and Teresa Mosqueda, who are members of the Seattle City Council, headed to New York to warn the city about Amazon's planned expansion in Long Island City, Bloomberg News's Krista Gmelich and Spencer Soper reported. Herbold and Mosqueda “are urging elected officials in New York to pass legislation now that will address potential housing and transportation issues that will inevitably follow in the wake of Amazon’s decision to build a major new campus in Queens,” according to Bloomberg News.
— More technology news from the public sector:
- CES technology show in Las Vegas.
- Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao delivers a speech at CES in Las Vegas tomorrow.
- The Washington Post hosts a live event titled “Transformers: Artificial Intelligence” on Thursday.
- The Brookings Institution hosts a discussion titled “How China and the U.S. are advancing artificial intelligence” on Jan. 14.
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