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Manufacturing CEOs Face Challenges Training Workers In High-Tech Jobs


Speaking to conservative activists today, President Trump said that thanks to his election jobs are starting to pour back into the U.S.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And they're going back to Michigan. And they're going back to Ohio. And they're going back to Pennsylvania. And they're going back to North Carolina and to Florida.


TRUMP: It's time for all Americans to get off of welfare and get back to work. You're going to love it. You're going to love it. You are going to love it.

SHAPIRO: Trump has been publicly pressuring American companies to keep jobs in the U.S. Yesterday, he hosted a couple of dozen manufacturing CEOs at the White House. And they told him the problem is not a lack of jobs for American workers, but a lack of skilled workers to fill the jobs that are available. Factories are much more high-tech than they used to be.

Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution has looked at programs created to train laid-off workers. He says, by and large, they are too small, offered too late and don't focus enough on key skills.

MARK MURO: I think we have a lot of work to do - that is underway in many places - to rethink particular training programs with especially an emphasis on real jobs - what industries really need moving forward. Now, I think the broader problem, though, is, meanwhile, we have much larger challenges spreading through the labor market. You know, we have, you know, well-intentioned trade adjustment assistance programs working on trade. We have coal programs for coal communities. We have defense industry adjustment programs working on things like base closings. But meanwhile, we have pervasive issues developing, for instance, around automation, which is affecting much broader swaths of the workforce.

SHAPIRO: When you talk about job-specific skills, what skills specifically are you offering to you?

MURO: There are specific skills often around the ability to operate digital and other machinery that is critical. My sense is, you know, the digitization of almost all occupations is rushing along at very rapid pace. And so even at the entry level, workers may not get a start if they don't have basic digital skills. And that's not high-level programming, but it is dexterity and speed using digital technology.

SHAPIRO: What specifically do you think the Trump administration can do to help close this gap between demand for certain skills and a mismatch with the skills that workers actually have?

MURO: Well, I think the first thing is much better job-market counseling for workers who apply for support.

SHAPIRO: Meaning, as they leave a given job, they're told here are the individual fields where people are hiring these days?

MURO: Absolutely. Here are the fields. Here are the occupations and, perhaps, even the places, you know?

SHAPIRO: In the country?

MURO: Yeah. And then I think for some, a mix of things like relocation grants, wage insurance to help tide people over as they make these adjustments. For some nearing the end of their work career anyway, maybe help with retirement.

SHAPIRO: If this program were perfectly impeccably designed, how much of the problem could it really solve, and how much of the problem is just going to be with us no matter what we do?

MURO: I think adjustment is always difficult, but I think our country's been unusually weak at this. We really haven't thought about it much.

SHAPIRO: Are there other countries that serve as really good models for how to do this better?

MURO: I mean, certainly, the Nordic countries and many of the European countries think much more about how the labor market is functioning and how workers can move around within it. We haven't because I think we've had generally faster growth and relatively dynamic ability for workers to jump around. That is becoming more difficult. And I think there - technology is creating more fundamental challenges.

SHAPIRO: Mark Muro is a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. Thanks for joining us.

MURO: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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