The Obama administration’s job’s czar, General Electric’s Jeffrey Immelt, addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday and discussed job creation ideas to the Chamber’s audience at the annual jobs summit. Mr. Immelt’s speech was relatively defensive and placed most of the onus on private sector businesses to take the first step towards creating jobs. (all bolding below is mine)
However, proposals in his speech for boosting job creation were also counter to what the Obama administration has already put forward. For example, in the video above, Mr. Immelt talks about his call for U.S. companies to double the amount of engineer interns:
:45 - We’re already engaging the U.S. schools too. The people in this room can do more too. I have asked other U.S. companies to commit to doubling the number of engineer interns that we recruit from U.S. colleges and universities. Workforce training for jobs and competitiveness also matters. There are thousands of open jobs in the advanced manufacturing and healthcare fields but our training programs have not evolved to keep up with changes in technology or the needs of employers.
The problem with Mr. Immelt’s internship proposal is that it can only be chalked up as some nonsense platitude, when the Obama administration’s labor department had already come out against unpaid internships for private businesses. A Water Cooler post covered the labor department’s policy on unpaid internships last year in April:
At a time when the unemployed are concerned about not only money but also loss of job skills,the Obama administration’s top law enforcement officer at the Labor Department, M. Patricia Smith, is looking to come down on companies who give unpaid internships to young people. An editorial in The Washington Times on April 7 stated:
“Basic economics teaches that if the price is raised, demand falls. If companies have to pay wages, they will take on fewer interns. If these youngsters were actually benefiting companies more than it costs to train them, companies would pay them. Profit-seeking companies compete against each other for employees. If untrained students were such valuable workers, firms would gladly offer money to beat out the competitor next door to get them.”
Not only does Mr. Immelt’s internship proposal run counter to the administration but also his suggestion that manufacturing companies partner up with technical schools is completely counter-intuitive to Obama’s Department of Education’s move to establish the “Gainful Employment Rule” on for-profit schools. This policy from DOE would financially cripple the for profit education industry and cause immense job loss. Mr. Immelt, however, appeared oblivious to the Obama administration’s war on the for-profit school business:
“In refining ways for manufacturing industries to partner with community colleges and technical schools to enroll more students in certification programs and help build the kind of workforce that will thrive in the global economy, the national association of manufacturers are working with us on this challenge.”
I later asked the General Electric CEO how he could put forth these kinds of proposals, when the administration had already been hostile to both businesses using unpaid interns and the for-profit education industry, like technical schools. His non-answer revealed more than he may have realized, as he stood among Washington D.C. reporters responding that he was not “going after specific pieces of legislation.” The transcript of the conversation is below:
TWT: You mentioned schooling being a very important factor as well as labor, but as far as schooling is concerned, you have the Department of Education which came out with the gainful employment rule which will absolutely devastate the for profit schools. You also mentioned internships but you also have the labor department which earlier in Obama’s administration— the labor department came out and said they were against unpaid internships. This is really counter to what you’re looking to do. How can you possibly…
IMMELT: I’m not going to go after specific pieces of legislation and things like that. I think the need to improve secondary education, the need to drive more engineers as a jobs council we’re taking those on and I just think…we see the role where we can play—better community colleges to do skills training—more engineers…
TWT: What about for profit schools, though?
IMMELT: I just don’t really have a comment on that.
Mr. Immelt noted in his address that the jobs council he is leading is looking for “non-legislative” ways to increase job creation. “We’re trying to operate around Washington gridlock,” told the U.S. Chamber audience. That pie-in-the sky remark produces exchanges like the one above.
It is easy for Mr. Immelt to tell U.S. companies to “stop complaining about government” or that “anger doesn’t create jobs. teamwork does” when your company is the government’s favored pet who received billions in tax-payer bailouts. The jobs council seems more like 2012 campaign re-election window dressing than anything else to help the president appear as if he is doing something, but the hard numbers of unemployment will trump any cheerleading jobs council for the president. That beats any platitude any day.