Marc Benioff was a Hillary Clinton supporter, but that hasn't kept him from lending his brain to the Donald Trump administration. The Salesforce CEO is one of a handful of prominent tech CEOs who have consulted with President Trump since the election as part of the American Technology Council.
When discussing his meetings with the president, Benioff has consistently emphasized the need to bolster American job growth with new training programs. After meeting Trump in March, Benioff told USA Today that he asked for an apprenticeship program that could "create millions of American jobs" -- five million, in fact -- although he called this a "moonshot request." The president apparently responded, "Let's go for that five million." (Whether these words came with any follow-through is unclear.) CNBC reported on Tuesday that Benioff "has been at his most aggressive with President Donald Trump when advising him to implement apprenticeship schemes to help retrain swathes of U.S. workers."
Back in March, HR expert Suzanne Lucas explained, "Apprenticeship programs train people for all types of jobs -- blue collar and white collar -- while they are still in high school. This means that if you aren't inclined toward a university education, you still can be prepared for a career." Lucas pointed out the success of Germany's national apprenticeship initiative. Benioff's conception includes older workers, not just teenagers and young adults, but the principle is the same.
Referring to Salesforce and its Silicon Valley peers, Benioff also told USA Today, "Our companies are some of the best universities in the world." Bolstering this claim, a recent New York Times report detailed how "elevating skills over pedigree creates new pathways to employment and tailored training and a gateway to the middle class," citing efforts by IBM and Microsoft as examples.
What's behind all the talk about education? Benioff is among the prominent tech CEOs who are concerned that A.I.'s encroachment into service and knowledge work will decimate the already-dwindling need for American labor. The labor-force participation rate has declined significantly from the highs of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and is now on par with the late 1970s (minus that decade's upswing). At the same time -- because he thinks that its impact will be so large -- Benioff sees A.I. as an integral part of Salesforce's future.
After meeting President Trump in March, Benioff wrote about his vision for the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" sparked by computing:
AI and increased automation are already having a significant impact on employment, and could lead to a crisis of workforce development, contributing to a growing global inequality gap. By one estimate, nearly half of jobs worldwide could be at risk over the next two decades due to AI and automation. At the same time, entirely new categories of jobs are emerging to replace those given over to the dramatic shift in work. [...]
We need to prepare our young people for the workforce of tomorrow, investing in areas such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and in creating apprenticeships as paths to career readiness. And these apprenticeships can be accredited and validated as true educational vehicles. [...]
Companies are great universities for educating the workforce of the future. They invest in training employees, as well as interns and apprentices, to drive growth and innovation, which in many cases amounts to specialized instruction and hands-on experience that can't be obtained at even the most prestigious universities.
Flexible vocational training can be cheaper -- and therefore more accessible -- as well as more immediately practical than a traditional college degree. The advent of coding boot camps fits into this trend. Jobs-listing service Indeed surveyed more than a thousand hiring decision-makers and found that "72% of employers think bootcamp grads are 'just as prepared' to be high performers as degree holders," while an additional 12 percent thought that boot camp graduates were more prepared.
The report continued, "Little wonder, then, that 80% of respondents have actually gone ahead and hired a coding bootcamp graduate for a tech role within their company. Meanwhile, satisfaction levels are high: The overwhelming majority (99.8%) say they would do so again."
Marc Benioff would presumably like to see results along those lines across many sectors of the economy. He's willing to make nice with a political opponent in the hopes that it'll help. Interestingly, Benioff seems to have escaped the controversy that plagued fellow Trump advisers Elon Musk and Travis Kalanick, both of whom withdrew from the tech council in response to employee and consumer pressure. Whether Benioff's choice is pragmatic or unprincipled depends on your own politics--and on whether those five million new jobs ever materialize.