President Biden’s recently introduced "Build Back Better" policy is an ambitious three-part plan that aims to address our old economy’s structural weakness and inequalities while providing all Americans a chance to partake in the recovery of our country. One group, however, that has been left behind and overlooked too many times in this process is our veterans.
May marked Military Appreciation Month. It’s time, as 2021 continues to unfold, that we confront the reality that there is insufficient infrastructure for reintegrating veterans back into civilian life, often leading to homelessness, mental suffering, and financial instability.
The good news is that Biden’s plan creates a once in a lifetime opportunity to streamline veterans into manufacturing careers that will not only make an impact on our economy, but an impact on their lives.
The Widening Gap
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ 2020 State of American Manufacturing report painted a grim picture on U.S. manufacturing: supply chain breakdowns, COVID-19, job shortages, trade wars, and the list goes on.
However the truth is these issues were not created by the pandemic, it just made them more visible. For the last 70+ years, America’s manufacturing capabilities have slowly been hollowed out, sent overseas or outright run out of business by cheap, macro competitors.
It cannot be understated how critical an issue this is. Manufacturing accounts for 70 percent of R&D expenditure, 30 percent of productivity growth, and 60 percent of exports. Though even with this knowledge, the manufacturing industry is still starving for qualified workers.
In 2019 there were more than 500,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs across the country, today there are 720,000. By 2030, this will grow to 2.1 million unfilled positions and $1 trillion in unrealized economic output, if not higher due to the impacts of COVID-19.
The widening skills gap in manufacturing is having a real, measured and devastating effect on the American economy. Every day we don’t work to solve this problem, the less time we have to rebuild the foundation of our economy and prevent future supply chain disruptions.
If American businesses want to compete and thrive over the next decade as we rebuild post-COVID, we need to close this gap and create a pipeline of trained, certified, and dependable workers, now.
Build Back Better
This is where Build Back Better comes in. The plan provides a massive $580 billion investment and calls for allocating one percent of the GDP into infrastructure, manufacturing, supply chain resiliency and more over eight years to help ensure America upgrades successfully and for the long haul.
This makes good business sense for the sector considering for every $1 spent in manufacturing, $2.79 is generated organically; this is the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector.
This will be especially important for clean energy infrastructure which can be designed, manufactured and deployed within the U.S. Like President Biden said in his most recent State of the Union Address: "There's simply no reason why the blades for wind turbines can't be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing." The investments proposed by this plan meld together the needs of the infrastructure sector with the American-made manufacturing capabilities to do it.
It also calls for training, certifying, and deploying the next generation of manufacturing workers to close to looming skills gap and rebuild our economic flexibility and crumbling infrastructure.
This influx of resources is not only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix the sector’s ailments but it’s also the perfect opportunity to get veterans off the bench and redeploy them to advanced manufacturing where qualified talent is desperately needed.
While Biden’s Build Back Better plan is a great step in the right direction for solving these issues over the long term, the plan’s only gap is it doesn’t clearly outline an immediate, short-term solution while the effects of the long-term investments catch up.
The widening skills gap is accelerating the deterioration of American manufacturing and every day there are fewer and fewer Americans with these critical skills. It is crucial we establish a training pipeline like the plan suggests, but we also cannot solely rely on this investment to pay us back in 2 – 6 years. We need a vanguard to hold the fort while the economy catches up.
This is where veterans come in.
Deploying the Veteran Workforce
We’re sitting on the country’s most underutilized resource: veterans. A May 2021 study by Deloitte analyzed the state of the manufacturing industry and recommended hiring military personnel for mid to highly skilled positions.
Every year more than 200,000 veterans rejoin civilian life and struggle to find a new career. Our veterans have the maturity, discipline and focus necessary to rebuild our economic foundation and they are our country’s greatest resource, both on the battlefield and in the economy. Simply provide them the accelerated training and release them into the sector to create immediate impact.
For too many Military Appreciation Months and Memorial Days in the past we’ve thanked our veterans while letting homelessness and financial instability in the veteran community fester and grow. It’s time to make a real change in the dynamic and the economic proposals by the Biden administration provide an opportunity to do so.
Whether parties support President Biden proposed policies or not, it’s without question that more can be done across the board. Veterans don’t need a handout; all they need is an opportunity to earn a new path in life. Individuals can help by supporting veteran causes or organizations and businesses can help by doubling down on veteran hires.
The time for talk is up; the Biden plan will flood the sector with resources, resources that can be used to streamline veterans into the sector.
Hernán Luis y Prado is the Founder and CEO of Workshops for Warriors, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that offers transitioning service members and veterans accelerated, multi-disciplinary advanced manufacturing training and nationally recognized certification.