The American Worker: Hope, Fallacy of the Training, ‘Reskilling’ Shibboleth Meme

shibboletha word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning (Merriam-Webster)


In July 2018, President Trump announced an initiative to train and “reskill” Americans for jobs. Hey, I believed him when he declared Buy American, Hire American in April 2017. Why not this?

The announcement stated:

“Now, President Trump has signed an Executive Order to establish the National Council for the American Worker. Comprised of senior Administration officials, the Council is charged with developing a National strategy for training and retraining the workers needed across high-demand industries. The group will convene voices from the public, private, education, labor, and not-for-profit sectors to enhance employment opportunities for Americans of all ages.”

I know of no National Council for the American Worker meeting with President Trump and IT professionals/STEM workers. Nor have I heard of any national strategy to help and restore displaced/bypassed American tech workers, such as myself and many other tech workers I know, many seasoned and experienced IT professionals, already doing the types of jobs for which training or being “re-skilled” is needed.

I do know Francis Cissna, the former Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, met with tech workers in Florida in December 2017. As well, on April 18, 2019, Cissna hosted a “Buy American and Hire American Listening Session” – a great, and long overdue, meeting.

But Cissna was fired.

So now who in the Trump administration is looking out for displaced American tech workers? Where is the “strategy” to restore the careers and lost income of all the experienced IT/STEM professionals who have been displaced or bypassed through foreign labor dumping into the U.S.? Why hasn’t President Trump invited American citizen IT professionals to the White House – like he’s done with so many other worker groups and tech oligarchs – to discuss how to protect our jobs and careers, and restore our livelihoods? To “convene voices” is wholly inadequate to address the extensive career degradation of American tech professionals and overall American know-how.

When I look back at that training and employment “summit” at the White House in July 2018, and subsequent declarations of the current administration, given my own personal experience in the IT job market, I now view Carl Green’s remarks on his retraining to be a truck driver after he retired with some eye-rolling cynicism.

At the gathering with President Trump to showcase his new council and advisory board to boost training and employment opportunities, Green said:

“This is my fourth career. I started off as an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam.(Applause) I went to the defense industries, and then to banking and investments, and retired. I was bored. (Laughter) Bored. I found C.R. England – thank you, sir – and found my last and greatest career. I enjoy driving my big rig across this great, beautiful country delivering food to hungry people. (Applause)

It’s great that Green found work in his retirement that he finds fulfilling. And I thank him for his military service.

But U.S. citizens who are experienced IT professionals, and not retired, are in a different situation. Our jobs were stolen from us! We are not necessarily in need of “reskilling.” Many of us are broke due to the effects of foreign labor dumping, which has created suppressed wages, job displacement and, in some cases, suicides.

The solution to this 20-plus year economic carnage of too many formerly middle class is to restore our jobs and careers! The solution is not “retraining” or “reskilling,” but rather restoration and justice. Every American IT professional I know of has gone through this experience. We all have an understanding of what it’s like to be displaced or bypassed in our own country by mostly cheap, foreign labor dumping.

No mention of actually hiring American workers

At the July 2018 event too was the noticeable omission of commitments to hiring American citizens, making them first in line for all the jobs promised. There was one reference and a pledge “to provide enhanced career opportunities for 13,000 Americans in Wisconsin.” Commitments to creating jobs and training is a feel-good sound bite and ultimately cynical ploy if there are no specific references and commitments to priority hiring of American citizens.

Meanwhile, out in the real world …

Recently, I met two tech workers at a networking event, one a software worker from India. He told me he worked at a major bank, in the city I live in, on the OPT program. The other tech worker, also in my local community, is an American citizen and veteran who told me his group had just hired two H-1B workers from India. I’ve applied for work with both of these companies, but without success. Now you’d think I’d be able to have the DOJ and DOL investigate this. But this seems all perfectly legal to “ignore” me in my own city’s labor market. The irony of this happening to me in a supposed tight labor market is not lost on me at all.

What are my government-elected officeholders doing to protect me from being 1) dispossessed in my own country and 2) helping me to flourish?

Well, my U.S. senators are probably going to vote for S. 386, the “India First” legislation that will prioritize tech workers from India, as many as 600,000 H-1Bs, for Green Cards for at least the next 10 years.  And what has President Trump done? I hope he pays heed to commentator and author Lou Dobbs who advised on August 1, 2019, to veto S. 386 if it passes in the Senate.

One year post the National Council for the American Worker announcement

On July 25, 2019, President Trump with daughter Ivanka marked the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Pledge to America’s Workers executive order aimed at creating more job training and opportunities for Americans.

Several thoughts came to mind watching the event.

Ivanka Trump said:

“This administration believes that every American should have a chance to earn a great living doing work that they love. The pledge reflects the President’s commitment to ensuring inclusive economic growth and making sure that all Americans are equipped with the skills they need to secure and retain good-paying jobs, whether they’re coming right out of high school and looking for their first career or entering their first career, or later on in their life cycle, needing to learn a new skill or a new trade because of the consequences and effects of automation in this rapidly changing, technological environment.”

Notice how the “automation” shibboleth is slipped in, perhaps to explain the “consequences and effects” of American worker displacement for at least the past 20 years.

How can American IT professionals “earn a great living doing the work that they love” when many have never recovered from the effects of all this foreign labor dumping into our own nation’s labor market?

Every American tech worker knows that it’s largely been mass foreign labor dumping  and consequential offshoring of jobs that’s impacted our livelihoods – not this referenced “mass automation.”

Why all this talk of training and “reskilling” when American citizens have been pushed out of the labor market and often times, during this process, have had to train their foreign worker replacements? When so many American IT professionals have been pushed out of, and displaced from, our tech labor market, it is just plain insulting to constantly hear about “retraining” or “reskilling.”

The shibboleths of “retraining” and “reskilling” are largely, I’ve observed, just ways to organize work in order to suppress wages, dump/bring in cheap foreign labor and offshore jobs. If you’re not yet concerned about HR molesting our labor market and hiring processes, then listen to what Johnny Taylor from the Society of Human Resource Management said at the July 19, 2018, executive order signing:

“On behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management, we have 300,000 members. And more importantly, we touch the lives of 100 million workers every day. We’re dedicated and committed to creating 127,000 new opportunities over the next five years for America.”

Three hundred thousand is the size of a large army. In this case, from what many IT professionals will tell you, an HR “commissar” caste army of many (but not all) busy-body hacks “touching the lives” of over half of our nation’s workforce.

If you disagree with my strongly worded analysis, Google the work of Professor Peter Cappelli at Wharton, who has extensively researched obtuse hiring methods. For instance, many of today’s job advertisements and postings are not legitimate. Recently, I came across a job posting on the website of a large health insurance company. I was reminded that I had already applied last February to a job that HR recruiters are still ostensibly trying to recruit for. Fake job advertisements and recruiting scams by corporations need to end.

Killing American acumen

Having performed challenging tech deployment and troubleshooting, and seen how my father did real high-tech precision custom work for NASA and Defense, I see how American technology acumen and know-how/can-do is being smothered, in part by the denigration of American workers when using the shibboleth memes of “retraining” and “reskilling” in order to deflect the awareness of the impact of all the foreign labor dumping into our country.

But, if you’re going to have a retraining program for Americans, do it the way it’s done in Denmark. Danish workers get a large percentage of their salary while unemployed, not our measly unemployment compensation. They also are given generous paid training options, especially to stay current in their professions, not retrain for jobs they already have the experience to do. But all we seem to hear about is that Americans need retraining and reskilling for a competitive global economy, and that we “need” these foreign workers, as we’re “running out of people” with a low unemployment rate.

I’m not buying that line of thinking for a second.