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- Barbara Humpton is the US CEO of Siemens, the German engineering conglomerate.
- As a member of the White House’s American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, she is working toward four shared goals.
- Humpton wants American companies to cooperate in developing best practices for apprenticeships and workforce training in an age of automation, and for the federal government to track and share this data.
- This article is part of the Better Capitalism and C-Suite Insider series.
After it appeared that President Donald Trump had referred to Apple CEO Tim Cook as "Tim Apple" at a televised White House press conference in March, the clip quickly went viral. But while the media attention focused on the silly gaffe, many missed the important discussion taking place among executives like Cook, IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty, and several state governors about the future of automation — and their conclusions could have drastic effects on the future of American workers.
Siemens USA CEO Barbara Humpton was also at that meeting, the first of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board. In a recent interview with Business Insider, she said that while she used to think investing in infrastructure was going to be the No. 1 bipartisan issue in America, investing heavily in workforce training may edge it out, "largely because this is something that, with joint investment at every level of the system we should make huge progress."
The viral bit may have led Cook to change his Twitter display name, but the real ramifications of the meeting were four goals participants agreed to address. Humpton explained them for us.
1. "Develop a robust campaign to promote multiple pathways to good-paying jobs, dispelling the myth that there is only one path to a successful career."
"Legend had it that a four-year college degree is the secret pathway to the American dream," Humpton told us, dismissing the idea it’s true today. Siemens has apprenticeship programs and plans to expand to a total of eight by the end of the year.
As a recent report on American apprenticeships from Bain found, there still exists a stigma around vocational training. The idea that a bachelor’s degree is necessary for a good job isn’t accurate, but it’s still widely believed, according to the report.
2. "Improving the availability of high-quality, transparent, and timely data to better inform students and educators, as well as match American workers to American jobs."
Humpton is hopeful that one of the main outputs of the advisory board will be the creation of a "light infrastructure" developed by the federal government. It will establish "a repository, at the federal level, of information that will help us understand the effectiveness of our programs," she said. She believes that a degree of cooperation among companies will be necessary, and it’s why Siemens has been developing open-source rather than proprietary training programs for specific jobs. Siemens has also shared its apprenticeship data with the board.
If companies and politicians on the federal and state level continue to cooperate, there can be apprenticeship and job-training best practices that can benefit the entire country, Humpton explained.
3. "Modernizing candidate recruitment and training practices to expand the pool of job applicants employers are looking to hire."
"All too often, job requisitions will say they require a four-year degree, when in fact there’s nothing about the job that truly requires a four-year degree — it merely helped our hiring managers sort of weed through the crowd and get a smaller qualified candidate group," Humpton said.
The idea that you either will graduate high school and struggle forever or go to a four-year college and at least have a shot at the middle class has to go. Apple’s Cook announced at the meeting that half of his company’s hires last year did not hold a four-year degree. IBM’s Rometty has long been a champion of the company’s P-TECH schools, which are free schools in underprivileged areas that offer a path to an associate’s degree and IBM internship.
4. Measuring and encouraging employer-led training and investments.
Humpton believes that companies should be taking the lead on determining ways to educate and train current and future workers. We’re at the start of what the World Economic Forum calls the "Fourth Industrial Revolution," where automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will replace or modify millions of jobs around the country.
It’s companies like Siemens that are developing those technologies, and so it places them in a position to develop training that will minimize the turnover required. Siemens USA has 50,000 employees and is spending about $50 million a year on training its workforce. It uses skills-based training tools to ensure that when jobs are replaced or modified by automation, that doesn’t have to mean an employee is laid off. In fact, Humpton said lifelong learning is already becoming the norm for workers.
"If everybody can accept the fact that yeah, what these are are powerful tools being brought to the table that make us more productive and allow us to create things that have never been possible before — then the question is how do we really manage a workforce so that we don’t leave anybody behind?" she said.
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