DAVOS, Switzerland — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday that the rise of automation will not significantly diminish jobs in the United States, and that the country will double down on retraining efforts to help workers who have been displaced by robots.
“Technology doesn’t just shrink jobs,” he told reporters gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “It changes the nature of jobs.”
Ross invoked skeptics of the past who also feared shifts in the way people work — “Luddites trying to keep factories from opening,” he called them. Advanced manufacturing positions, he said, will replace some of the older roles that disappear.
He said preparing for this labor transformation is one of the Trump administration’s top priorities.
“One of the big themes that the president, and especially Ivanka Trump, has is how you train . . . young people so they can be properly assimilated into the new technologies,” Ross said, referencing the president’s elder daughter and White House adviser, who has pushed for more spending on science and technology education.
The comments came at a conference where the question of how to cope with workforce-disrupting advances has become routine among chief executives, lawmakers and economists.
Ross said he has discussed the issue this week with executives from Swiss firms Nestle and ABB. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta also attended a private workshop Wednesday that addressed “the replacement of human workers with robots.” (He declined to comment on his approach to the issue Wednesday to The Washington Post.)
Meanwhile, Salesforce, Hewlett-Packard and other American firms announced this week in Davos a joint mission to “reskill” a million workers worldwide over the next three years.
“All over the world, people are asking themselves how they are going to prepare for their future, whether it’s a new job, new responsibilities, or needed new skills,” Robert E. Moritz, global chairman of the consultancy PwC International, said in a statement.
The Trump administration’s mission to benefit from automation is a challenge economists have been debating for years. Thus far, the United States has suffered staggering job losses in some industries linked to the increasing use of machines. Research shows automation has zapped more manufacturing jobs than outsourcing.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Homeland Security adviser Thomas Bossert also spoke to reporters Thursday, reiterating their support for President Trump’s “America First” agenda.
Mnuchin defended his comment Wednesday that a weaker dollar is good for the economy, a statement that preceded the greenback falling to a three-year low.
“We are not concerned with where the dollar is in the short term,” he said, “and it’s a very, very liquid market, and we believe in free currencies.”
He added that the United States has no interest in sparking trade wars, a hot topic in the Swiss resort town this week, saying that the president wanted to pursue fair deals.
Bossert, meanwhile, said his national security priorities this week have been managing cyber threats and meeting with leaders of Middle Eastern countries to work on counterterrorism efforts in the region and West Africa.
The U.S. officials spoke in Davos hours before Trump was scheduled to land in the town, which has been buzzing about what he might say during his closing speech Friday.
Trump has a packed schedule on Thursday, according to the White House.
He is first supposed to meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss North Korea, the Syrian conflict and the Iran nuclear deal, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters this week.
An hour after that, Trump is scheduled to talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the president’s opposition to the Iran deal is expected to again come up — and then attend a reception with the economic forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, before a dinner with a group of European business leaders.