Siemens' chief executive indicated last week that President Donald Trump could be open to worker retraining programs — common in the company's native Germany — as a path to expanding the U.S. manufacturing workforce.
Joe Kaeser joined executives from fellow German industrial giants BMW and Schaeffler during Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to the U.S.
Although the bulk of media attention from the visit focused on the interaction between Trump and Merkel, Kaeser told The Wall Street Journal that Trump appeared supportive of increasing apprenticeships — potentially with help from German companies.
Apprenticeships have long been used in Europe to train workers for industrial and manufacturing jobs, but they remain uncommon in the U.S. despite rapid expansion in recent years.
Proponents of apprenticeship programs argue that manufacturing workers need significant training and education to operate increasingly sophisticated industrial equipment.
Siemens already operates an apprenticeship program for a gas turbine factory in North Carolina, and the company announced last week that it plans to expand its U.S. training program and invest more than $2 billion in industry software for U.S. students.
Trump vowed to strengthen U.S. manufacturing on the campaign trail, but his policies focused largely on trade instead of automation — which experts consider the larger threat to manufacturing workers.
Kaeser said that improved worker training programs will be crucial to meet the challenges posed by robots and automation.
“Even if you train people to have the skills they need now, it’s all going to be wiped away in a few years by robots,” Kaeser told the Journal.
Trump, the paper reported, lauded Germany's "successful model" in remarks following the meeting with the executives.