Apple CEO says American workers aren’t skilled enough to build the company’s products. He’s wrong.
Editor's note: This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
Tim Cook said on 60 Minutes Sunday night that Apple manufactures in China because China focuses more on vocational education than the United States.
He's not being truthful.
Apple manufactures in China because it can. It can exploit a nearly endless pool of cheap labor. It can avoid more stringent environmental regulation. And it's the only way that Apple can also sell into China.
Yet Tim Cook wants to cite a decline in the vocational skills of Americans as the reason why Apple offshores its production.
That's rich irony. Companies like Apple used to make much more hardware in the United States. Around the turn of the century, Apple and others turned their attention offshore — not in search of more skilled workers, mind you, but rather in search of the lowest possible costs, no matter what the human toll. Partly as a result,one-third of all manufacturing jobs in the United States have gone missing since 1998.
Here's the other rich piece of irony: For all the credit I'd give Apple for innovative design and amazing technology, it's shocking how primitive and brutal Apple's assembly-line model of production is in today's economy. Instead of throwing innovation, automation, or engineering at its production, Apple throws bodies – the hundreds of thousands of bodies it houses in China and wakes up in the middle of the night to solve last-minute glitches.
And here's the final rich piece of irony: Somehow, Apple is being outsmarted.
Elon Musk has managed to find and train skilled workers to build amazing Tesla electric vehicles just 20 miles down the road from Apple's headquarters and is betting on workers in Buffalo, N.Y. for a new generation of solar products. SHINOLA has found and trained workers in Detroit to help bring watchmaking back to the United States.
Now, Tim Cook has a point about the decline of the tool and die industry in the United States, particularly relative to the rise of the industry in China. But that hasn't stopped the Teslas, the SHINOLAs, or even the hoodie-makers like American Giant from establishing a beachhead in the United States.
Apple doesn't make iPhones in the United States because the company is too heavily invested in its outdated production model in China. The truth is, if Apple reinvested a fraction of its market capitalization in reinvigorating U.S. high tech production, it would make a real difference, and it wouldn't even raise the price of iPhones in a way that would harm sales.
I wish Tim Cook would give American workers a chance. Instead, he's stuck in the Dickensian model of cheap, exploitable labor to make a buck.
As an innovator, Tim Cook should be part of the solution in modernizing and expanding the U.S. industry, rather than using it as an excuse and a crutch. The way in which he whined to Charlie Rose didn't demonstrate leadership or a core Apple value. Now all we need is a Taylor Swift tweet to change his mind.
I use an iPhone because I think it's the best performing product out there. But I know American workers could make it if Tim Cook believed in them.