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News | Sept. 27, 2023

DOD Is Taking Steps to Shore Up Industrial Workforce

By Joesph Clack, DoD News

The Defense Department is taking steps to ensure the U.S. industrial base can meet the growing demand for skilled workers well into the future, a senior Pentagon official said today.

Keith DeVries, managing director of manufacturing technology for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said manufacturers' demand for skilled workers is projected to grow significantly over the next few years — and meeting that demand is critical for the U.S. to maintain its economic and warfighting edge.

"Based on estimates from our manufacturing institutes, there are more than 800,000 open jobs in manufacturing today," DeVries said during a webinar on the future of defense manufacturing. The webinar was hosted by Defense News.

"The industry over the next decade will require more than 4 million jobs to maintain sustainable throughput, and the current estimate says that if we cannot address the skills gap by 2030 we could be looking at over $1 trillion in [gross domestic product] impact," he said.

Those figures apply to commercial manufacturers, as well as the defense industrial base.

"The defense industry is tapping into the same pool as the commercial industry," he said. "If Caterpillar or Toyota were to hire 1,000 assemblers or 2,000 welders for their commercial demands, that impacts the defense industry's ability to tap into the same skill sets."

A man in civilian attire stands next to a robotic arm.


He said the daunting workforce figures have compelled defense officials to take a long-term approach to shore up the supply of skilled workers into the future.

"One of the things that we talk about a lot in our office and in our community is that workforce supply is a supply chain issue of its own," DeVries said.

We cannot simply pour money into a problem today and expect a result tomorrow," he said. "We have to take a longer view. We have to develop, nurture and mature capability for not only traditional manufacturing but advanced manufacturing as well."

The DOD has put several programs in place to get ahead of the curve, he said.

DeVries said the DOD's defense manufacturing community support program, for example, includes efforts to help companies across the defense industrial base ensure their workforce can meet current and future demands.

A man sits at a computer terminal.

The program, which was authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019, allocated $80 million to assist more than 2,200 defense businesses.

He said DOD has also invested in programs designed to prepare departing service members and veterans for civilian careers in high-demand manufacturing and has made key investments in raising awareness of manufacturing careers for school-age children.

DeVries said that in addition to specific DOD programs to shore up the defense industrial base workforce, the department partners with a variety of U.S. government agencies.

"There's more to be done," he said. "And we're doing that in partnership across the interagency. We're reaching beyond the walls of DOD."