Report | November 12, 2019

Workforce Readiness – The National Security Threat From Within

Military leaders urge further investments in health and education for Pennsylvania youth

While external threats to America’s national security are well-covered by headlines, few recognize the threat from within – the readiness of America’s youth.

Our country’s thriving economy is creating fierce competition for qualified individuals among all employment sectors including our Armed Forces. This tight labor market is complicating the U.S. Army’s plan to grow the active duty force to 500,000 troops. It also contributed to the Army missing its 2018 recruiting goal by 8.5 percent, or about 6,500 recruits, while the Army National Guard and Reserve missed its 2018 goal by a combined 17,000 recruits.

This problem is compounded by the fact that 71 percent of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 would not meet the military’s core eligibility requirements due to inadequate education, obesity or other disqualifying health condition, or having a record of crime or substance use. Of the remaining 29 percent who would qualify, only 17 percent would be qualified and available for active duty, and 13 percent would qualify, be available, and achieve a satisfactory score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

Readiness concerns are echoed by the private sector. According to the PA Chamber of Business and Industry’s 29th Annual Pennsylvania Economic Survey, employers identified “the lack of qualified applicants to fill job openings” as the “single most important issue” facing Pennsylvania businesses today. Further, “[only] 43% of employers rate the current [PA] workforce as either excellent or good, the second-lowest on record and down from a high of 66% in 2012.” Most employers identify deficiencies in both “soft skills” and “hard skills” among job applicants.

These numbers make it clear that we have more work to do in ensuring that young Pennsylvanians are ready for college or careers, including military service if they so choose. Nothing less than our economy and future national security depend on it.

The pipeline to a successful workforce depends on children of all backgrounds having the hard (academic) and soft (social-emotional) skills that are vital for success. Ensuring that all Pennsylvania students have the opportunity for a quality education, regardless of zip code and beginning in the earliest years of a child’s life, can help ensure more of our commonwealth’s children are developing these skills.


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