Carlisle outlines for Hill the gaps to a strong future defense workforce


ARLINGTON, VA – Emphasizing vocational education and easing the path for small businesses to operate are critical to get the defense industrial base the workers it will need in the future, NDIA’s Hawk Carlisle said Tuesday in testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense

“Many factors are causing widening gaps in our workforce with which we must contend,” said Carlisle, president and CEO of the National Defense Industrial Association. “Without comprehensive investments in all of our nation’s human capital, we won’t be able to fill these gaps, much less ramp up expeditiously in times of national need.”

Carlisle noted that “decades as a society selling a four-year degree as the ultimate path to opportunities and career success … has had the unintended consequence of messaging that skilled careers are somehow second class. That could not be further from the truth,” he said. “For many with the talent and desire, noble, skilled careers can be both lucrative and fulfilling.”

The defense sector mirrors the workforce challenges of the greater organic industrial base — unmet demand for STEM talent, increasing shortages in skilled personnel who can build systems needed to stay competitive, uneven access for all of America’s talent pools and the evolving work environment that the COVID crises has only accelerated. 

Carlisle noted the security clearance process, required for such defense jobs, “can be a high and sometimes impossible hurdle to clear, particularly for small companies,” he said. These companies cannot afford to wait for these workers to be cleared as can larger prime contractors, and “this prevents small business from entering and remaining part of defense ecosystem.”

Responding to Carlisle, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) cited a statistic that in 2020, nearly 25% – or about $80 billion – in business was done by small businesses. He asked Carlisle to define the challenges unique to these companies.

Carlisle listed several, among them the so-called “valley of death,” or the time it takes “to go from a great idea to put it on contract to produce. “Larger businesses have ways to deal with that. Small business: if you have a workforce, many [owners] will have to mortgage their houses to pay their workers while waiting for the contract to come through,” he said.

Carlisle said starting the security process earlier, including during internships and while in school, are two ways to get ahead of it. He also noted the rich pool of workers among veterans and their spouses that remains an untapped resource.

Carlisle cited NDIA’s Defense Workforce Project, four working groups of experts from around the country who are looking hard at this matter and devising solutions. Among issues the project has uncovered are building up a skilled workforce, promoting STEM education, practicing diversity and adjusting to the changing work environment. The project will have its first summit Dec. 9.

Carlisle’s complete remarks are available here. To see the full hearing before the subcommittee, click here.  

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About NDIA

The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) is America's leading defense industry association promoting national security. NDIA provides a legal and ethical forum for the exchange of information between industry and government on national security issues. NDIA and its members foster the development of the most innovative and superior equipment, training, and support for warfighters and first responders through its divisions, local chapters, affiliated associations, and events. For more information, visit