Accelerated Training Program a Boon to Defense Industry

By Tom Kearney

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While the final size of the Navy’s fleet remains a hot discussion topic, there’s little question that in the future it will be a lot larger than it is today.

In order to build these ships of tomorrow, the Navy needs to make sure there are enough certified welders and other skilled technicians to do the actual shipbuilding. Fortunately, that assurance is on the horizon thanks to an innovative pilot program known as Accelerated Training in Defense Manufacturing.

Made possible by a $7 million contract awarded by the Defense Department’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment Office using the Cornerstone other transaction authority, this new fast-track training program will serve as a template for developing skilled workers quickly and at a large enough scale to significantly impact the defense industrial base’s manufacturing needs with the creation of regional training centers.

Launched in June in Danville, Virginia, the pilot program addresses skilled workforce gaps faced by defense companies and prepares those workers to be productive on the shop floor from day one. The focused curriculum — developed by the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research and Danville Community College, in partnership with The Spectrum Group and Phillips Corp., and through direct engagement with shipbuilders and the shipbuilding industry suppliers — condenses what would typically be an 18-month to two-year program into four months by training eight hours a day, five days per week.

The first 36 students to take the course since it began in June are on track to complete their training by the end of September. Their 40-hour a week training focuses on the Navy’s shipbuilding and repair needs of welding, computer numerical control machining, quality assurance/metrology and additive manufacturing.

The pilot program has big potential. For example, if implemented nationally via regional training centers, eight centers could each produce 1,000 graduates a year, adding 8,000 trained personnel to the workforce pool in short order.

Today, vocational training in welding and other manufacturing skills is generally handled by community colleges where the skills being taught are for a broader industry pool and not specifically tailored to the needs of the defense industry. While some larger companies also run their own apprentice training programs, these can be expensive and most of the Tier 1 and 2 manufacturers can’t afford to do so.

Since the first ATDM pilot is focused on shipbuilding and ship sustainment, the training will focus on what’s needed by this segment of the industrial base and will include specific national level certifications relevant to shipbuilding and repair.

As ATDM rolls out nationally via regional training centers, the vision is for it to focus on the needs of local industrial bases. For instance, in Detroit, Michigan, a regional center could potentially support the Army by producing tanks and other land vehicles. In the Huntsville, Alabama, area, where aerospace is prevalent, the focus would be on rocket and missile-building skills.

These regional training centers will not just benefit contractors, but also the communities where they’re based. Who gains value for increasing manufacturing capacity? A variety of entities. Of course, the contractor gains skilled employees, but the federal government also benefits because it gets the products needed for warfighters. There’s also tremendous value to local communities. When a company expands its business, it creates a larger tax base that feeds back to the local schools and the public good.

ATDM also provides the defense industry with a solid workforce procurement path to allow contractors to properly plan for and execute the contracts they’ve been awarded and to confidently bid on new work, knowing they will have a better chance of finding skilled workers — something that hasn’t always been the case.

In the past, when a contractor won a defense-related procurement order, the hiring of qualified workers was their responsibility. And oftentimes, with constraints in the supply of domestic manufacturing and engineering talent, that has proven to be a challenge. These challenges were manifested in both schedule delays and quality assurance issues. However, with ATDM fully implemented, contractors will experience a paradigm shift in how the Defense Department does business.

By moving the training of skilled workers to more of a partnership model with costs shared by local, state and federal government, and the commercial manufacturers, companies will have a better idea as to whether they will have enough workers to successfully take on a project — regardless of whether that’s building ships, tanks or aircraft. This is especially important for smaller contractors that don’t have the resources to train or recruit their own workers.

In order for the program to be successful though, there needs to be advocacy and awareness of it at the defense leadership level. And on the government side, acquisition program managers need to know that this accelerated training program exists and could be an excellent source of talent for the manufacturers they closely work with.

Who exactly are the ideal ATDM recruits? Due to the intensity of the training and time commitment, more mature workers in their mid-20s and beyond are the primary candidates. Spouse teams may also be interested. Other target candidates include veterans looking for an exciting way to work for a defense company as they transition out of the military.

Another group of workers who would benefit from the program are those already working for a manufacturing company who have the potential to move up from an entry-level position to one requiring a greater skill set.

This training program will play an important role in filling the large workforce gap in America, but it’s not the only one. We need thousands of skilled workers and ATDM, in concert with other programs, can and should be part of the answer for meeting the defense industrial base needs of the future.

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Tom Kearney is a member of The SPECTRUM Group, one of the partners in developing the ATDM pilot program.

Topics: Defense Contracting, Defense Department, Training and Simulation

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