AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka argued Thursday that job training alone isn’t enough while discussing workers who have been displaced by technology.
The U.S. economy has changed rapidly in recent years as technology continues to innovate at an ever-increasing speed. But caught in the middle of that change are workers with skills that are being replaced with robots and computers. President Donald Trump has looked to strengthen and expand training programs to help ensure workers get skills that are still in demand.
Trumka addressed the issue while speaking during a panel discussion at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. He argued that training alone isn’t enough and that more needs to be done to ensure workers aren’t hurt by these new technologies. He added that unions already train many workers but that hasn’t fully addressed the issue.
“We train people, that’s what we do,” Trumka said during the discussion. “That’s not the issue, training them to do what? And if in fact the logical conclusion is technology shrinks all the jobs so that there are not enough jobs for those in the society, that training only makes you, first it makes you, in my instance, you’re an unemployed miner, then you get trained to be a computer programmer, so then I was an unemployed computer programmer.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found in a 2011 report that the federal government spends about $18 billion annually on job training programs. Former President Barack Obama, for instance, invested $90 million into a federal program focused exclusively on apprenticeships – an area the current administration has been looking to expand.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has been at the forefront as the administration has looked to expand training opportunities. He has argued that the increasing reliance on a college degree has resulted in a younger workforce with a narrower skill set that leaves many good jobs unfilled. The administration has looked towards apprenticeship programs to provide more diverse skills.
“We have to look at the jobs and how we are going to deploy or share the benefits of that technology,” Trumka said. “It cannot continue to go to the little group at the top while the rest of the people get less and less.”
Acosta has clarified that he isn’t opposed to people getting a college degree – but rather that people need to dispel the notion that a liberal arts education is the only pathway to a good job. He argued during a congressional hearing Nov. 15 that the solution is to instead encourage people to pursue job training that matches their interests and talents.
President Donald Trump has taken a particular interest in apprenticeship programs as a way to train the workforce. He signed an executive order last year to encourage the Department of Labor to find ways to expand those programs. Acosta has since led those efforts by visiting successful programs, funding research, and meeting with experts.
Trump has overseen steady labor market gains since entering office over a year ago. But issues like wage growth and the skills gap remain a concern that his administration is looking to address. Acosta has argued that part of the solution is to streamline the process by which the government certifies apprenticeship programs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that job openings currently stand at 5.8 million. The number of unemployed persons per job opening has steadily declined since it jumped dramatically in response to the last recession almost a decade ago. But there are still millions of working-age adults without work.
Economists have looked at various solutions to potentially address the skills gap problem. Some believe the skills gap is occurring because people are not being provided needed skills through school and training. Others assert the issue is the result of certain industries not paying adequate wages to attract skilled talent.