The United States faces a dual crisis with over a half-million unfilled manufacturing jobs and large numbers of retired military service members who are struggling without opportunity, employment or even homes. Fortunately, more business and civic leaders are recognizing that the two problems, when viewed together, reveal a collective solution: build a scalable infrastructure that trains, certifies and directs veterans into stable, high-paying, advanced manufacturing careers. This tackles the skills gap, stems the manufacturing sector’s brain drain, steers veterans toward a purposeful path, and strengthens the economic and social fabric of America.
Over the past several decades, the American manufacturing sector traded resiliency for cost-cutting and profitability, continuously shrinking and damaging the collective skills base of the American workforce. Now, there are 522,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs across the country, and by 2028 this skills gap is projected to reach 2.4 million.
This affects far more than the building of cars, jet engines and other large machines. In 2016 advanced manufacturing represented 60% of the dollar value of U.S. exports, and this sector is consistently driving innovation, giving way to the scientific tools and technologies used for medicine, research, aerospace, computing, AI and more. These are the elements that will drive the economy of tomorrow.
If we as a nation allow the continued weakening of America’s advanced manufacturing skills base, $2.5 trillion in economic output will be at risk.
Compounding the problem of a shortage in manufacturing skills training is the fact that the average manufacturing worker was 44-years-old in 2019, meaning they are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. As these workers retire, there aren’t enough younger Americans with the necessary skills to replace them. In 2009, 52% of teens reported they had little to no interest in a manufacturing career. In 2017, only 3 in 10 Americans said they’d encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career. Now in 2020, with no surprise 80% of manufacturers report they’re struggling to fill open positions.
At the very same time, the country needs more infrastructure for integrating veterans back into civilian life. As a result, many end up in dire financial and housing situations. In 2019, more than 37,000 men and women who protected our country were homeless. And, with 200,000 service members retiring and joining civilian life every year, directing veterans into advanced manufacturing is a real, obtainable solution to grim economic and social realities.
Navy Veteran Takes the Lead
One organization that I found tackling these harsh realities is Workshops for Warriors (WFW), a nonprofit that provides veterans and transitioning service members with on-site, four-month, accelerated advanced manufacturing training programs with nationally recognized credentialing and job placement for well-paying careers in the advanced manufacturing sector.
Ninety-four percent of its nearly 800 graduates are employed full-time and many work for WFW’s partners including Ford, SpaceX, Bank of America, Siemens, General Dynamics, Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co., Boeing, Mastercam, and many more.
WFW Founder and CEO Hernán Luis y Prado is a 15-year Navy veteran who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “After leaving the Navy in 2008, I saw too many veterans who were purposeless and cast adrift,” Luis y Prado said. “When I looked at them, I saw intelligent, resourceful people who were desperate to contribute and continue serving their country in a new career, but didn’t know how. I started Workshops for Warriors to provide training and opportunities for these talented men and women, while also solving the advanced manufacturing crisis that is eroding American competitiveness. All we need now are the resources to expand, so we can train more trainers and create opportunities for more veterans.”
Of course, there are many organizations that help veterans, and they are a blessing; many provide much-needed money, services and material goods for the short term. Other organizations and leaders like Luis y Prado teach veterans how to earn for themselves. They see veterans as the valuable resources they are to America, not as recipients. Given the training and opportunity, veterans have the dedication, willpower and dynamism to have a real economic and social impact.
Major American companies themselves play an important role in rebuilding American manufacturing, and this is not only an economic issue, it is a national security issue. The Department of Defense stated in a July 2020 report that COVID-19 has highlighted just how vulnerable America’s supply chains are – not just to pandemics, but also to natural disasters, cyber-attacks and more.
Furthermore, citizens, community leaders and neighbors share a social and moral obligation to provide those who served our country with career opportunities. Organizations like Workshops for Warriors present the opportunities for scaling this smart and purposeful work.
CNC Software is one company that is supporting the training of veterans and WFW. According to Meghan West, CNC’s President and CEO, “Mastercam has been the number one CAM software used worldwide for 26 years. For American companies to remain competitive globally, we need to solve the growing skills gap in the manufacturing sector. Training eager veterans in advanced manufacturing through Workshops for Warriors is a simple, win-win solution for addressing major economic and social issues.”