We must close the skills gap to secure our future

As the economy has picked up steam in recent months, headlines across the nation have testified to a new and pressing challenge: a shortage of skilled workers to fill the jobs being created by robust growth.

Leaders from businesses, large and small, have long warned about the growing “skills gap” – the shortage of workers with the training and education needed to fill the science and technology jobs of the 21st century.

For those of us in the aerospace and defense industry, this shortage has a clear, real-world impact.

One survey by Industry Week found that nearly 40 percent of aerospace companies believe that the skills gap has had an “extreme” effect on their ability to innovate and grow. 

These limits on our growth carry consequences for the entire economy. The aerospace and defense industry generates more than $865 billion in output every year. We are America’s leading net exporter. And we are home to well-paying jobs for U.S. workers.  

That’s why the president’s call to address the growing skills gap is so important for our nation’s future as an innovator and a job creator.  

In the years ahead, millions of American workers are in danger of being left behind by advances in digital technology, manufacturing, and automation.

In decades past, preparing U.S. workers for the future meant focusing on promoting science, technology, engineering, and math. 

This effort is as important as ever, but today we need to go farther and we need to think more broadly.

We need leaders in government, industry, and at educational institutions to take a holistic view of workforce development – whether an individual chooses college or not. 

By recognizing the full breadth of the “skills gap” challenge and the cost to U.S. workers, the president has helped the nation take strong and positive steps. 

Last year, the president created the Apprenticeship Task Force and issued an executive order to identify and remove the bureaucratic and regulatory impediments to apprenticeships. 

By strengthening apprenticeship programs, we are opening the doors of opportunity.

Apprenticeships help workers train on a craft or skill at a company while still in school. And they help U.S. companies, by connecting them with workers interested in developing skills needed to compete today – and in the future.

Another important step in addressing the “skills gap” is the recent formation of the National Council on the American Worker.

By leveraging insights from government, industry, and academia, we will find new ways to modernize our nation’s education and job-training system.

At Lockheed Martin, we are proud to answer the president’s call for comprehensive workforce development.  That’s why we are pledging to create 8,000 apprenticeship and workforce development opportunities over the next 5 years. 

These efforts will focus on closing the skills gap at every link in the workforce – from those still in high school to those joining our industry after serving in our armed forces.  And, just as important, we are targeting outreach and initiatives to help those who are at risk of being displaced by new dynamics in the marketplace.

For this reason, we will be investing $100 million to expand employee training and educational opportunities to help workers upgrade their skills. Of this investment $5 million will go directly to vocational and trade programs – those typically forgotten in discussions about developing a 21st century workforce.

Even as we take on these commitments, we will continue to strongly promote STEM education for students.

We are increasing our investments in STEM programs by $50 million over the next five years for scholarships and programs that will help students pursue and succeed in the STEM disciplines.

As we look at the challenges ahead, it is up to this generation of leaders in government, industry, and across society to invest in and to develop a workforce equal to the global challenges and technological changes ahead.

America’s long-term economic growth, our national security, and our leadership in the world will always depend on the skills, capabilities, initiative and ingenuity of U.S. workers.

So, now is the time to act across every sector to ensure that every worker has an opportunity to grow, achieve, improve, train, and excel over the entirety of their careers – regardless of where they start, where they work, or how high they aspire to go. 

Marillyn A. Hewson is chairman, president, and CEO of Lockheed Martin.