The White House hosted members of the newly formed “American workforce policy advisory board” for its first meeting on Wednesday afternoon.
The board consists of 25 executives, state and local officials and representatives from various universities. The CEOs of Apple, Siemens USA, IBM, Visa, Home Depot, Lockheed Martin and Walmart are some of the high profile business leaders on the panel. (Though a Walmart spokesperson told Yahoo Finance CEO Doug McMillon was unable to attend the meeting.)
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and advisor, lead the advisory board. The White House says the board’s mission is to “revamp the American workforce to better meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
Despite the low unemployment rate – 4.0% in January – there are 7.3 million unfilled jobs in the U.S., according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many companies struggle to find qualified workers.
The administration says it wants to improve access to jobs training to bring workers off the sidelines and into the workforce.
“We want to have the companies grow and the only way they’re going to grow is if we give them the workers and the only way we’re going to have the workers is to do exactly what we’re doing,” said President Trump, sitting next to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
The Trump administration is set to release its budget proposal next week. Last year, the president proposed a 21% budget cut for the Department of Labor and called on the secretaries of labor and education to "consolidate and reorganize" federal workforce development programs.
According to the White House, the board’s goals are to:
Develop a campaign to promote multiple pathways to career success
Data transparency to better match American workers with American jobs
Modernize candidate recruitment and training practices
Measure and encourage employer-led training investment
The panel met to discuss the goals and ideas on how to achieve them, before meeting with President Trump.
“I think we’re at deep risk of having a very divisive ‘have and have not’ era out here that’s not inclusive and if we’re going to make this era of both economic growth and technology prosperity inclusive -- we have to do something so that the many, not the few get to participate in this world,” said IBM CEO Ginni Rometty in the meeting.
The National Association of Manufacturers says the inability to attract and retain a quality workforce remains manufacturers’ top business concern.
“Manufacturers are in urgent need of more workers. By 2028, we will need to fill 4.6 million jobs. Manufacturers strongly support the administration’s efforts to address the workforce crisis, and the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board is a perfect complement to the work already underway at The Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s workforce and education partner, to inspire and train a new generation of manufacturing workers,” said National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons.
The CEOs stressed the need for qualifed workers with certain skills, not necessarily workers with traditional degrees.
“Our company was founded by a college drop out, so we’ve always had a view that it was skills that mattered. In fact, almost 50% of the people we hired last year in the United States do not have a four year degree,” said Cook in the meeting.
Barbara Humpton, the Siemens USA CEO, highlighted the company’s pledge to expand U.S. education and training opportunities to reach more than 75,000 workers and students over the next five years.
“Siemens currently invests more than $50 million annually in the continuing education of its U.S. workforce while also contributing millions more to educate, train and re-skill students, teachers, U.S. military veterans, Siemens employees and its customers. Hundreds of thousands of people across all 50 states benefit from Siemens’ continued investment in its U.S. operations and its commitment to training, retraining and upskilling workers across the country,” said Humpton in a statement ahead of the meeting.
The White House has formed similar panels of CEOs in the past, but they disbanded after executives began distancing themselves from the president in the wake of his comments on Charlottesville in 2017.
Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.