Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker: The next secretary must focus on trade, the workforce and the digital economy

Commerce Sec. Pritzker: We can't afford to go backwards on jobs
Commerce Sec. Pritzker: We can't afford to go backwards on jobs

As President-elect Donald Trump assembles his new administration, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told CNBC on Tuesday she has several major issues in mind for the person who succeeds her.

The secretary, appointed by President Barack Obama in his second term, said she has written a 20-page letter to the next secretary, whomever it may be, about the things she wishes she knew when she accepted the job and the issues facing the next administration.

The first issue to keep in mind, she said, is trade. "We have to trade in order for our companies and our businesses to thrive, and more importantly, for our people to thrive," Pritzker told "Squawk Box."

The second is the country's workforce. Meeting with 2,100 CEOs over her tenure as secretary, Pritzker said every single one told her they struggled to find the skilled workforce they needed.

And third, Pritzker said the digital economy is creating anxiety and challenges, but also opportunity — something the next secretary of commerce will have to reconcile in his or her time with the new administration.

As for Trump's warning on Cuban-American relations, Pritzker said the work the Obama administration has done to benefit the Cuban economy and people should speak for itself.

"I don't know what happens, but I think that it's very hard to put that genie back in the bottle after having normalized relations," Pritzker said, noting that U.S. companies have benefited greatly from improved relations as well.

As the Democratic Party scrambles for leadership after the election's upset, the commerce secretary said there was a lesson to be learned from the loss.

"We need an economic message that addresses anxiety and frustration that exists in our country of not being able to earn or have confidence that my career is something that I can depend on in my lifetime because of the amount of change that's going on," Pritzker said.

"Whether it's globalization, automation or digitization, we need to make sure that our people are well-trained and well prepared to deal with that," she said.

Though it has not been confirmed, Trump is said to be considering billionaire Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary.