CES 2020: Ivanka Trump talks the future of work (with video)

Ivanka Trump, CES2020

The trucking industry had a cameo in Ivanka Trump’s CES 2020 keynote speech, held Jan. 7 in a packed Las Vegas hotel ballroom.

“In the majority of states in the country, truck driving is the largest occupation,” said Trump, whose talk took the form of a fireside chat with Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the organization that produces CES.

Countries that try to impede innovation fail, added Trump, a senior White House adviser and co-chair of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board. She said innovation is a “net job producer” and that “many jobs will be created in industries that don’t exist today.”

But the innovation sector needs to do a better job anticipating where there will be disruption and coming up with a plan to help displaced workers, according to Trump.

Employers say they need more workers, “and then I read about layoffs and not spending the time to re-skill workers — I have very little sympathy for that.”

About 1,500 CES attendees stood in line for more than an hour to hear Trump engage in a wide-ranging conversation focused on how new technology will shape the future of work.

Topics of discussion included developing new STEM programs for K-12 education, re-skilling people who have been incarcerated and facilitating entrepreneurship through public and private programs.

Trump even unveiled her own tech proposal — a smartphone app that would contain everything a job seeker might want to show an employer: education credentials, job skills, portfolio examples and more.

“All of that should be catalogued and tracked in such a way that it empowers the individual as opposed to having that information locked up in HR of the company,” Trump said.

She referred to the concept as a kind of portable electronic record that would “disrupt HR” and move hiring toward a system based on skills instead of educational credentials, “which may or may not be relevant.”

Trump’s  presence at CES was, unsurprisingly, controversial. Female tech leaders in particular expressed frustration that the president’s daughter had been invited to lecture one of the most sophisticated tech audiences in the world.

“This is an insult to women in technology,” investor Elisabeth Fullerton wrote in a Facebook post: “We did hard times in university, engineering, math, and applied sciences. “This is what extreme privilege and entitlement get you. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know I guess.”

In an op-ed published in Forbes, technology analyst Carolina Milanesi said “the reason for my upset is rooted in the fact that there are many more women who are in tech and are entrepreneurs who could run circles around Trump on how technology will impact the future of work.”

No stranger to such criticism — CTA was called to task last year for having a paucity of female speakers at CES 2019 — the organization defended its choice, touting Trump’s work on initiatives ranging from paid parental leave  to funding for historically black colleges.

At one point during the fireside chat, Shapiro recounted a story about meeting Ivanka last March at the White House, where she questioned his enthusiasm for autonomous developments like self-driving cars.

“‘What about the people who are factory workers, and the [truck] drivers who are left behind?’” Ivanka reportedly asked.

Because of that conversation, Shapiro said, he added a new chapter on displaced workers to his book Ninja Future, which recently came out in paperback.

For her part, Trump plugged her tech bona fides, calling out Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff in the audience and touting apprenticeship programs similar to the one IBM CEO Ginni Rometty unveiled in the same ballroom during CES 2019.

Sounding a lone political note, Shapiro said he and Ivanka both have mothers who are immigrants, and that research shows immigrants start a majority of U.S. companies.

“How can we keep this pipeline open for the future?” he asked.

“My father thinks it’s insane” we educate immigrants from across the world, Trump responded. And then, just as they are about to start businesses, “we throw them out. It doesn’t make sense.” 

But immigration “can’t displace the investment that needs to be made in the core experiences of marginalized Americans,” she said. The U.S. needs to “recruit and retain the greatest talent in the world, and we need to invest in American workers.

“We can’t just seek to import that.”