Keith DeVries, the acting Manufacturing Education and Workforce Development (M-EWD) Program lead at the Office of the Secretary of Defense Manufacturing Technology Program, works to ensure the United States' defense manufacturing sector remains at the forefront of technology innovation. Aligned with OSD ManTech’s mission and partnered with stakeholders, practitioners, and policymakers, the M-EWD program aims to cultivate an educated and skilled advanced manufacturing workforce that can meet the changing demands of defense manufacturing.
DeVries acknowledges that defense manufacturing technology education faces challenges. The industry's rapid evolution demands a workforce with up-to-date skills and knowledge. However, the current pace of training and upskilling workers is insufficient to provide a steady supply of qualified professionals.
“As defense manufacturing leans into next-generation advanced manufacturing capabilities, we can lead workforce training efforts for the broader manufacturing sector to follow,” DeVries said. “As we train, we will be learning many lessons ourselves in optimizing our approach for the next generation(s) of learners.”
To address these challenges, the DOD ManTech EWD program is pursuing strategies that focus on fostering collaboration among educational institutions, industry partners, and government agencies. This collaboration aims to create a robust defense manufacturing technology workforce pipeline.
“While our emphasis is on post-secondary, non-degree learning opportunities for manufacturing skills, the pipeline begins with and relies on our emerging K-12 students having a renewed understanding of manufacturing opportunities and skillsets.”
The M-EWD Program collaborates closely with the DOD Manufacturing Innovation Institutes. These institutes have a history of designing and implementing educational programs that address the workforce challenge. With more than 339 academic member organizations across 45 states and over 212,200 students, teachers, and incumbent workers trained since 2020, the DOD-MIIs play a pivotal role in preparing the workforce for the future.
“The DOD MIIs are the M-EWD laboratory for high-value experimentation and validation of workforce development techniques,” said DeVries. “They allow us to put theory into practice in a focused environment, and then scale highly successful programs for nation-wide impact.”
In a dynamic field like defense manufacturing, continuous innovation and emerging technologies are paramount. DeVries places great emphasis on leveraging these advancements to shape the future workforce. By staying at the leading edge of technology and growing the needed workforce, the defense manufacturing sector can maintain its competitive edge.
“Our advanced manufacturing technique development is enabling ever greater technical capability to be delivered to our warfighters,” said DeVries. “From carbon-carbon composites for hypersonics to advanced packaging of semiconductors into stacked-die modules, defense manufacturing is deploying the next generation of capability for our troops.”
Diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility are integral to the program’s approach to workforce development. DEIA efforts aim to ensure that opportunities in the defense manufacturing sector are available to all, regardless of background or demographic. This commitment to diversity strengthens the sector's innovation and adaptability.
"In our pursuit of innovation and excellence, we must recognize that diversity is not just a goal; it's an imperative,” said DeVries. “Embracing individuals from all walks of life brings fresh perspectives, creativity, and resilience to our workforce, ultimately making us more adaptable and capable in the ever-evolving landscape of defense manufacturing."
For those aspiring to join the defense manufacturing technology or workforce development field, DeVries emphasizes the importance of having a thirst for knowledge, adaptability, and a commitment to lifelong learning. The defense manufacturing industry, he asserts, is dynamic and filled with opportunities for those who are industrious and driven.
“With a spirit of curiosity and humility to work across disciplines and skillsets, a career in manufacturing can be extremely rewarding and provide a pathway for gainful employment for all incoming workers,” said DeVries. “From entry level technician to engineer to shop-manager to executive, the dynamic environment of defense manufacturing will make every day a new opportunity to innovate, collaborate, and solve real challenges that make a difference.”