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LIFT Receives $5 Million Department of Defense Grant To Expand “Operation Next” Across the Country

By LIFT Press Release

DETROIT – After recently reaching its goal of enrolling 101 soldiers in its “Operation Next” military transition program pilot, LIFT – Lightweight Innovations For Tomorrow, a Detroit-based, Department of Defense-funded applied research and development institute operated by the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute (ALMMII), announced today it received a $5 million grant to expand the program to nine additional military bases across the country over the next three years.

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To date, 101 soldiers have graduated or are enrolled in the pilot – a goal chosen in honor of the 101st Airborne housed at Fort Campbell.

Powered by LIFT and launched as a pilot in early 2018 at Fort Campbell, Ky., Operation Next is an innovative training and credentialing program that provides a blended learning curriculum to active-duty soldiers within their last six months of service. The program enables the individual participants to earn one or more nationally portable, standards-based, industry-recognized credentials in high-demand manufacturing fields.

To date, 101 soldiers have graduated or are enrolled in the pilot – a goal chosen in honor of the 101st Airborne housed at Fort Campbell. Of the graduates, 87% have been hired into industry, while the remaining have chosen to continue their education or take time off before joining the workforce.

The Department of Defense (DoD) will fund the program’s expansion to bases nationwide, and each military facility will ramp up to support up to an additional 150 graduates preparing to separate from the military. The nine bases initially under consideration because of their large numbers of transitioning personnel. They include: Fort Bragg, N.C; Fort Benning, Ga.; Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Fort Hood, Texas; Camp LeJeune, N.C.; Scott Air Force Base, Ill.; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; Naval Base San Diego, Calif. and; Naval Station Norfolk, Va.

In addition, Operation Next will begin offering its blended learning program resulting in industry credentials to military spouses and members of the National Guard and Reserves in three states. The program offerings will also expand to develop or adopt curriculum tracks to welding and robotics credentials.

“The inability of manufacturing companies to find individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to fill current and future positions is a barrier to economic growth and expansion and is a threat to the U.S. defense industrial base,” said Emily DeRocco, education and workforce development strategist for LIFT. “Providing military personnel the chance to layer critically needed technical skills on top of the equally important foundational skills they acquire in the service is a clear pathway to significantly impacting the national manufacturing workforce shortage.”

The number of new jobs in manufacturing is expected to grow by nearly 2 million by 2028, according to the 2018 Manufacturing Skills Gap Study by Deloitte. However, the study also determined that more than half of these available jobs could remain unfilled because of shifting skill sets due to the introduction of advanced technologies, misperceptions about manufacturing, and the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

The U.S. Army alone is transitioning more than 100,000 individuals to civilian life each year. These men and women – with skills acquired in the service such as leadership, teamwork, diligence, and problem solving – are the prime audience to address the manufacturing skills gap.

The Curriculum

Operation Next brings market leaders in manufacturing training together into a full-service online learning platform that military personnel can access before leaving the service, accelerating their transition into civilian manufacturing careers. The hybrid training program combines self-directed virtual learning with hands-on lab work and provides foundational knowledge, practical real-world skills, and national industry credentials with immediate value in the labor market.

Currently, Operation Next offers two training tracks: Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) and Machining and Industrial Technology Maintenance. These training programs lead to credentials from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills that validate skills attainment necessary to prepare the individual for the most in-demand manufacturing jobs in our country. A new, soon-to-be-added welding training track will result in credentials from the American Welding Society.

“Being headquartered in Detroit, the heart of American manufacturing and the ‘Arsenal of Democracy,’ we are thrilled to lead this effort in support of our men and women in uniform as well as the manufacturing base across the nation,” said Nigel Francis, chief executive officer for LIFT. “Filling the ‘missing middle’ is critical to our national and economic security and Operation Next is the model to fill that gap.”

The entire Operation Next curriculum can be started and completed within the individual's final six months of service while they are still on active duty. And, because of the online component, military personnel can continue their service obligations while accessing a significant portion of the curriculum anytime and anywhere there is an internet connection.

More information on Operation Next can be found at

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