According to a new report from the Department of Defense (DoD), “[Aerospace and Defense] companies are being faced with a shortage of qualified workers to meet current demands as well as needing to integrate a younger workforce with the ‘right skills, aptitude, experience, and interest to step into the jobs vacated by senior-level engineers and skilled technicians’ as they exit the workforce.”
Although the industry has had moderate job growth from 1.37M in 2014 to 1.42M in 2016, according to a report from Deloitte—a trend that will likely continue with the increase in defense spending in the National Defense Authorization Act and the Army’s growing modernization effort—there are not enough young professionals entering the workforce with the adequate skills to continue the success of the industry.
Only 1.5 percent of 25-34 year olds in the U.S. have a science degree, according to the DoD report published by the Office for Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy. While not an immediate threat to the industry, the divide between the skills of new graduates and the need of the industry will be exacerbated as older manufacturing workers—workers over the age of 45 represent over 60 percent of the industry—exit the workforce.
The trend is representative of a larger one in the greater manufacturing industry, where the Manufacturing Institute reported that “the manufacturing industry is projected to fall a startling 2 million workers short of its needs” in the coming years.
As Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, a former Raytheon executive, told DSJ last week, the private sector will play a large role in the modernization movement. He said the Army will be more broad in its requirements to “see what [the private sector’s] innovation can bring to the table.” But these demographic challenges “continue to … limit innovation and reduce U.S. competitiveness in the global markets,” at a time when the Secretary has said “We have entered an era of great power conflict.”
No one in the Army Public Affairs Office could be reached at this time.
Regardless, a competent private sector is crucial for U.S. national security given that almost a third of the DoD’s budget for fiscal year 2017 was paid out to the top 100 contractors in the U.S. Army, Navy, or Air Force.
The report outlined several ways the DoD “is working to implement solutions to the complex challenges of a skills gap facing aerospace and defense companies,” including the establishment of programs to train and develop critical skills, increasing the supply of STEM-oriented students in grades K through 12, and focusing college students on manufacturing careers through fellowships and internships and training the current workforce on advanced manufacturing skills, all of which they plan to continue in the next fiscal year.
“The defense industrial base is vital to the U.S. national security and defense strategies,” the report stated, “and it must be robust, secure, resilient, and innovative in order to support warfighter requirements.”