How The Military May Hold a Key to the Skills Gap Paradox


Anyone who cares about the wealth and opportunity divide in this country has to be frustrated with the range of our policy options to fix the problem. For as long as we have had dying industries, we have had promises that workers in those industries could be retrained to do new work. But these promises have proven to be empty; in fact, most of the policy prescriptions for our income and skills gaps – more job training programs; lower taxes and regulations; more education reform; more welfare programs – have failed.

Fact is, for every inspiring story of former coal miners who taught themselves to code or inner-city kids who founded their own tech businesses, there are countless more examples of Americans falling further behind. The statistics don’t lie. If you’re born into a poor family, you’re far more likely to stay poor the rest of your life than at any point in American history.

I wonder whether our search for solutions has been too limited. There is, in fact, a powerful example of a massive and successful organization taking a diverse population and equipping them with the skills they need to thrive in today’s economy: the military.

The men and women who enlist in the armed forces of the United States are not, predominantly, children of the wealthy elite. They didn’t go to fancy prep schools with robotics labs and coding clubs. More often, they come from families with a strong heritage of military service, or from a humble background where money was scarce, and college but a dream.

And yet, during their tenure in the military, many become some of the most disciplined and technologically proficient employees in the American workforce. That raises an intriguing question: Can we replicate the Pentagon’s success throughout the rest of the American economy? I believe it’s worth a try.