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NextFlex FlexMil Launches in Alabama

by Courtney Power, NextFlex Learning Programs Manager

Alabama is home to one of the United States’ most rapidly growing advanced manufacturing ecosystems. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturing employs 13% of Alabama’s workforce, accounting for a total output of almost $39B in 2018. With compensation averaging $68k per year, a job in manufacturing builds both individual and community economic stability. Deloitte’s 2021 Manufacturing Industry Outlook states that “manufacturing consistently posts average monthly job openings of 400,000” jobs in the U.S. Who will fill these jobs? The good news is that a ready workforce capable of filling available manufacturing jobs is present at any of the six military installations within the state of Alabama. And the even better news is that transitioning servicemembers bring work ethic, job skills and a willingness to learn to their civilian employers.

NextFlex designed its flagship workforce development program, FlexFactor®, around building interest and awareness of advanced manufacturing careers to ensure industrial hubs like Alabama’s have the workforce they need to sustain growth. Based on research that NextFlex commissioned last fall through a survey of over 150 veterans and servicemembers, 82% of respondents expressed some level of interest in the manufacturing industry. However, only 26% of respondents reported having a medium or high level of knowledge of available careers in manufacturing. This mismatch in interest and awareness led to the creation of the FlexFactor Military (FlexMil) program.

Like FlexFactor, FlexMil is designed to raise interest and awareness about careers in advanced manufacturing. Participants are briefed on career opportunities in their state and local area, trained on the innovation processes and given an overview of emerging technologies, and then asked to work on a project team to develop an FHE-enabled hardware solution to a military challenge. Transitioning servicemembers already possess a keen understanding of the world around them. For this reason, the project is focused on the defense industry, where participants can draw on their deep familiarity with military products to identify gaps in functionality and capability.

FlexMil was recently piloted in Alabama with a cohort of 30 service members and the result was innovation in action! The winning team identified a critical problem: an ever-present threat to agility when conducting field operations or patrolling in a deployed environment. So, they broke the proximity constraint required for field radio and vehicle-mounted radio usage with their design of an FHE-enabled armband and a specially designed Bluetooth adapter. Together these products allow the user to dismount and move away from the radio unit to send and receive needed communications. This identification of a gap and subsequent solution show that military members are the perfect sounding board for defense equipment design and testing.

Many companies know the benefits of hiring veterans and have published commitments to do so. NextFlex’s FlexMil program seeks to illuminate career possibilities within the world of advanced manufacturing for transitioning servicemembers, ensuring they are aware of the opportunities and resources that lead to employment in this critical sector. Our troops are required to deal with the fog of war while in uniform; when they transition, NextFlex plans to make the path to civilian employment as clear as possible through FlexMil.

To learn more about FlexMil, please contact Courtney Power at cpower@nextflex.us.

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