WASHINGTON— The Department of Defense must develop a more robust workforce education system and bolster talent recruitment efforts for technically skilled candidates in order to address workforce gaps, experts told lawmakers on Tuesday.  

“We have a jobs mismatch,” said MIT lecturer William Bonvillian. “We have jobs that require more skills but the potential workers are missing the skills to fill them.” 

The Defense Department is not alone in the search for workers. Employers nationwide have struggled to find job candidates to fill vacant positions — and there are a lot of openings. Over four million Americans left their jobs in August, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

The labor force contracted in September and the labor participation rate remained consistent at 61%, despite expanded unemployment benefits ending and schools reopening.  

But a gap between the skills required for open jobs, particularly in emerging technological fields, and the skills which available workers possess has left many positions unfilled. 

“U.S. education and training are lagging behind the available technology, which hinders our ability to adopt the new technology that we need,” Bonvillian said. 

Advances in software development, artificial intelligence and data science have also outpaced the skills possessed by employees in industries modernized by these technologies. So on top of trying to fill empty roles, employers also face challenges upskilling their existing workforce. 

Specially-designed technical education programs aimed at teaching key competencies in emerging technologies provide one solution to the knowledge gap between available tech and worker skills, experts said. 

Bonvillian proposed ten options–including the implementation of new education technologies and short courses that offer stacked credentials–while Dakota State University president Jose-Marie Griffiths suggested the creation of a new degree-granting university centered on technical education. 

Vice President of Newport News shipbuilding Xavier Beale said technical education and recruitment should start early, long before post-secondary education or entry to the workforce. 

“If students are going to choose to enter Career and Technical training programs in high school, they need to be exposed to and sold on these career pathways as early as middle school,” Beale said. 

For kids involved with the Newport News Shipbuilding K-12 workforce development partnership program, their first job might be years away and the Defense Department needs skilled workers now. 

Infusing the defense sector workforce with technically competent employees needs to happen fast for the United States to remain competitive on fronts like artificial intelligence, Griffiths said.  

“We must fundamentally re-imagine the way the U.S. government recruits and builds its digital workforce,” Griffiths said. “Incremental change will not be enough.” 

The industry modernization allowed by improved technical education carries implications not only for the workforce but also for national security. 

“We cannot win the wars of the future with the workforce of the past,” said ranking member Ken Calvert, R-Calif.