The U.S. defense industrial base and federal government must work together to shore up the defense industrial base and workforce of the future, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official said yesterday.  

William A. LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, called for a whole-of-government approach and creative solutions by the private sector to draw the talent needed to ensure a capable, innovative industrial base with a talented resilient workforce.  

He highlighted the need for our nation and our global allies to produce critical systems and equipment rapidly and at scale. He also said recruiting a trained and skilled workforce to the defense industrial workforce requires public-private collaboration at all levels to build a robust talent pipeline.  

“This is at the state and local levels. This is at the high schools all the way up to the federal level,” LaPlante said during a panel discussion at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.  

“I think we can do [an] even a better job at … making sure we’re all talking to each other,” he said.  

LaPlante and his fellow panel members took note of U.S. shipbuilders’ investments in training opportunities for high schoolers to develop skills that will translate into well-paying jobs that will be in demand in the future.   

“I think the submarine industrial base has done a lot of really good work,” he said.  

He added that the government and private sector can also work together to ensure that the work environment within defense manufacturing is attractive to future talent.   

“If you’ve been to some of these advanced manufacturing [facilities], it looks like they’re at a startup,” he said. “It’s really cool. That actually matters. And, so, the government—all of us—can help…to invest in those areas.”  

LaPlante also said the government and private sector can work together to lower barriers to entry for some professions that require highly skilled employees, but not necessarily a college degree.  

While he said that this may not be feasible for all positions, it can work in some. “You know, people without college degrees can do software sometimes a lot better than those of us that are overly educated beyond our intelligence,” LaPlante said with a touch of humor. “You think about that; that goes against culture, right? But we’ve got to think of these [things] creatively like that,” he said.   

The Defense Department is preparing to release a comprehensive National Defense Industrial Strategy—the first of its kind in DOD’s history—that seeks to tie our nation’s highly capable and innovative industrial and technology base to our current National Defense Strategy and meet the global challenges DOD confronts. 

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