LAS VEGAS – Ivanka Trump faced an icy reception by some today at one of the world’s largest technology conferences as she spoke about her vision for the future of work.
The first daughter’s keynote at CES made a pitch for programs that would help blue collar workers keep pace with a rapidly evolving economy and addressed strategies to re-skill workers, develop apprenticeships and invest in science and technology education programs.
Trump has focused on workforce development in her position as adviser to the president, and she serves as the co-chair of the National Council for the American Worker with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
“It’s not only about training for the jobs of the future,” Trump said. “People need to be thinking about investing in their current workforce so they can enable those people to do their same job using different equipment tomorrow.”
Inside the room, her comments drew applause. But the inclusion of Trump in the speaker lineup sparked some backlash in the tech industry, as critics said there are women with more technical experience who are better qualified to speak there.
Hundreds of people have tweeted #boycottCES since the conference organizers announced Trump would speak at the show late last month, including on Tuesday. Some were particularly critical because the conference drew widespread criticism in both 2017 and 2018 for failing to bring in female keynote speakers, part of a longer track record.
“There are a lot of women who are doing a lot of work to help women in tech and build products that help women and help children and families,” Sara Mauskopf, the CEO of the child-care startup Winnie, said in an interview. “Ivanka Trump is not one of them.”
Mauskopf was planning to attend the show after her company won an award. But she’s recovering from an illness, and she said she decided not to make the extra effort to go once she learned Trump was speaking at the event. Her employees will still attend and staff a booth at the show.
CTA, the industry trade group that organizes CES, on Monday defended the decision to include Trump as a keynote speaker. CTA spokeswoman Jennifer Drogus said in a statement that policy discussions are a critical part of the conference, and the conference will host more than 150 policymakers.
“CTA invites officials from every White House – both Republicans and Democrats – to participate in and speak at CES,” she said in a statement. “The future of work is a critical policy topic for the technology sector.”
CTA President Gary Shapiro, who interviewed Trump during the keynote, told the BBC on Sunday he has no regrets and said Trump has done “great work.”
The criticism is just the latest flash point in tensions between the Trump administration and Silicon Valley, where many leaders strongly opposed Trump’s candidacy and disagree with the White House’s policies on issues including immigration and climate change.
While President Donald Trump has continued to attack the tech sector – and in some instances specific executives on Twitter – Ivanka Trump has enjoyed a cozier relationship. She has appeared at events with chief executives including Apple’s Tim Cook and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai. Another tech trade group, the Internet Association, gave her an “Internet Freedom Award” last year.
A spokeswoman for Ivanka Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
During the keynote, the White House special adviser and first daughter touted the Trump administration’s investments with industry to create apprenticeships. She said she’s hopeful sectors like cybersecurity and tech support could look to fields like construction as a model.
“It is not part of the American DNA outside of the skills trades, and we want to change that,” she said.
Trump focused on her father’s position that the U.S. high-skilled immigration system is “insane” and in desperate need of reform – an area she said many Americans should agree on. However, she noted that any immigration reforms need to occur in tandem with efforts to retrain existing American workers. She noted that industry needs to draw over American workers from the “sidelines,” and that it can’t just seek to “import” talent.
Trump also talked about ways advances in technology could smooth the hiring process for workers. She proposed that Americans should be able to carry important credentials, like high school diplomas, on their phones to limit delays in the hiring process caused by companies trying to verify records with schools.
Trump aimed to strike a largely bipartisan tone throughout the keynote, focusing on areas of cooperation between the administration and the tech sector. She talked about conversations and appearances with prominent tech leaders like IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who was in the audience.
Trump also said there needs to be a shift away from hiring workers based on degrees and a greater focus on skills. She said that the administration would be launching an ad campaign in the coming weeks to highlight pathways to the workforce other than four-year college.
Trump’s pitch comes as her father mounts an aggressive reelection campaign, with a message focused on supporting blue collar workers and including “forgotten Americans” in the economy. Her message at the conference dovetailed with her father’s positions, as she warned industry not to leave American workers behind.
“It is our responsibility as we think about this country and the health of all Americans, to be anticipating where there will be disruption, whether it’s long term or short term, and coming up with a plan to help transition those people,” she said.