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CEO Training Pledges Show Trump, Merkel Summit Wasn’t Altogether Fruitless

The heads of BMW and Siemens promised to invest millions more dollars in training capabilities, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put her free-trade case to the president.

While disputes over defense spending, trade tariffs and a very awkward non-handshake dominated the headlines following Angela Merkel’s meeting with Donald Trump, progress appeared to be made on a key issue confronting CEOs almost everywhere.

The need to improve training and development programs to fill looming skills gaps was discussed at length during Friday’s meetings, attended by business leaders from both Germany and America.

Trump acknowledged that German companies are held in high regard for their training programs, suggesting they’d helped keep the country’s youth employment rate relatively low. “Germany and the United States have an incredible opportunity to deepen our partnership as we continue to develop a strong workforce in both of our countries,” the president said.

During January’s World Economic Forum in Davos it was clear that attending CEOs believed that enhanced skills training was the best way to address the growing gap between rich and poor created by outsourcing and automation. Several American CEOs, including JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, who attended Friday’s meeting, are outspoken advocates of investing directly in skills development courses.

The CEOs of three German companies—BMW, Siemens and Schaeffler—each brought an apprentice along to the summit to share their training experiences. All three have large operations in the U.S. employing more than 100,000 people combined.

Merkel, by bringing along the CEOs and their selected apprentices, may have had an accompanying motive: to show the president how much free trade can benefit America. Whatever her and Trump’s intentions, though, the end result was a pledge to do more.

BMW CEO Harald Krueger said the auto company had invested $200 million in education and vocational training over the past five years and promised to invest a similar amount in the next five years.

After the meeting, Siemens released a press release pledging to double its apprenticeship program, hire and train more veterans and provide an additional $2 billion in software grants for schools and companies to train students in next-generation manufacturing jobs.

“I appreciated the opportunity to discuss with president Trump how industry, academia and government can work together to help empower workers with the skills needed for success in today’s advanced manufacturing environment and prepare them well for next-generation manufacturing,” Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser said.

Among the apprentices who attended was Marie Davis, who works as a planned maintenance supervisor at Schaeffler’s automotive parts plant in the small town of Cheraw, South Carolina. After serving in the Air Force, Davis was accepted into the company’s three-year program, which combined classroom and hands-on experience in conjunction with Northeastern Technical College. “I hope that more companies will follow BMW, Siemens and Schaeffler and offer apprenticeship programs to develop skills that will allow for more manufacturing in the United States,” Davis said.

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