This week in Indianapolis, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would save hundreds of Americans’ jobs from going to Mexico.
Speaking at United Technologies’ (UTX) Carrier air conditioning company, Trump announced a deal that kept 800 jobs in-state in exchange for $7 million in tax breaks. Meanwhile, 1,300 are still leaving, according to a letter sent to employees.
To workers at Carrier, the triumph is sweet, but it feels something like a stay of execution for their jobs, not an acquittal, given the circumstances.
“As much as we’re happy jobs are staying, a lot of us don’t know how much trust to put in Carrier,” 14-year Carrier employee T.J. Bray and USW union leadership member told Yahoo Finance. “If Trump doesn’t get re-elected, will [the jobs] leave then?”
The fact that Indiana taxpayers had to cough up millions to keep the jobs in-state—as well as the reality that automation will continue to make some human skills obsolete—paints Trump’s solution as a Band-aid. It is not a reasonable long-term strategy to retain manufacturing jobs. And as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out, Carrier’s sweet deal shows other companies how to out-negotiate Trump.
But lost in this confusing situation is the solution. It’s been there, provided by Carrier and its parent company United Technologies since the beginning: education and training.
Carrier understands the real solution is to retrain employees for modern jobs
Buried in Carrier’s letter to its employees, there’s a promise to provide “four full years of the Employee Scholar Program post-employment, which pays for education to develop new skills in a field of their choice.”
For employees, this is huge. “Ninety some-odd percent of the folks that work at Carrier are assembly line workers,” says United Steelworkers Local 1999’s President Chuck Jones. “They’re gonna have to be retrained if possible to other skill sets.”
This program from United Technologies isn’t new, and it’s not just for laid-off workers. Employees who currently work there can receive free education, too.
“All [United Technologies] companies have had this for along time, but they’ve been pushing it even more since the announcement,” Bray says. “A lot more employees have been taking advantage of it. It seems like it’s probably gone up to 15% who have taken advantage.”
According to United Technologies, the Employee Scholar Program currently has around 7,000 people enrolled, and pays for tuition, academic fees, and books at approved institutions. Since 1996, 38,000 degrees have been awarded to employees globally through this program.
“I’ve known folks that have gone out and left and got better jobs,” Bray says. “This person did a scholar program and now they’re an engineer here at Pratt and Whitney.”
For American manufacturing workers, losing jobs to automation and to those earning cheaper wages abroad is inevitable: Manufacturing just requires fewer people than it used to, and education and retraining seems like the only way out. In September, Jones told the Wall Street Journal that companies like Boeing (BA) are hungry for skilled tradespeople, but only a handful of affected Carrier employees had the required training and skills for those jobs.
In Bray’s view, Carrier’s giving its employees and former employees a path to find jobs that require other skills is going above and beyond what most companies would do. “Many jobs just up and leave, and you don’t hear much from the company about programs like what UTC [Carrier] offers,” he says. “It sucks they’re doing this, but they’re really encouraging and giving opportunities they can to get these programs out the workers.”