Reliability & Maintenance Center Training Workforce

LIFT Equips Veterans for Manufacturing Jobs

EP Editorial Staff | May 1, 2021

The Operation Next program, managed by LIFT, equips soldiers and their spouses with the skills needed to transition into manufacturing jobs.

Each year, more than 200,000 men and women leave the U.S. military, having spent at least two years in defense of our nation. Frequently, they depart military bases without a plan to transition to a civilian life and career.

This, despite the fact that service members possess the valuable skills, such as leadership, teamwork, diligence, and problem solving, that today’s manufacturers are seeking to move their companies forward and help address the growing skills gap.

According to Deloitte’s (New York City, deloitte.com) 2018 Manufacturing Skills Gap Study, the manufacturing field is expected to grow by nearly 4.5-million new jobs by 2028. The study also determined, more than half of those jobs could go unfilled because of shifting skill sets, the introduction of advanced technologies, misperceptions about manufacturing, and retirement of the baby-boomer generation.

That’s why LIFT, the Detroit-based and Department of Defense-supported national manufacturing innovation institute, developed Operation Next (opnextjobs.com). The innovative credentialing program trains active-duty soldiers, in their final six months of service, and prepares them for careers in high-demand manufacturing fields.

Students enrolled in the program earn nationally portable, standards-based credentials and certifications from nationally recognized organizations, including the American Welding Society (AWS, Miami, aws.org), National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS, Fairfax, VA, nims-skills.org), and Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA, Louisville, KY, saca.org), before being connected with hiring employers.

After an initial skills self-assessment, service members pursue a major in one of four offered programs: welding, computer numerical control (CNC) machining, industrial-technology maintenance, and robotics. The hybrid-training program combines self-directed virtual learning with hands-on lab work, and provides foundational knowledge, practical real-world skills, and immediate qualifications valuable in the labor market.

The pilot, first conducted in 2018 at Fort Campbell, KY, successfully graduated 101 soldiers—a goal chosen in honor of the 101st Airborne housed on base. Of the graduates, more than 90% were hired into industry or are continuing their education.

In 2019, the Department of Defense funded an expansion to support more graduates, including military spouses and members of the National Guard and Reserve. Military spouses often experience high unemployment rates or are underemployed due to frequent relocations, and our National Guard and Reserve members possess key skills. Supporting these groups is vital to helping the military community overall. Currently, LIFT’s Detroit facility offers Operation Next programming to the Michigan National Guard and Reserve, and Valencia College in Orlando supports the Florida National Guard and Reserve.

In 2021, Operation Next is expected to launch at several military bases and is accepting interest forms from military installations for future consideration. To connect with Operation Next and learn about future graduates, interested manufacturers can complete the employer interest form at Opnextjobs.com. Manufacturers can also get involved by hosting on-site plant tours and mentoring Operation Next students to showcase civilian employment opportunities. EP

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