David F. Melcher 2017-02-04 16:05:57
Our nation needs to keep making investments in bold research and development activities that will bring out the best of our bright young minds and keep the U.s. workforce competitive on a global scale. DURING the recent election campaign, there was much talk about the need to bring back manufacturing jobs to America. The fact is we have good manufacturing jobs in our country right now in the aerospace and defense industry. Our country has more than 1.7 million skilled and dedicated aerospace and defense employees—917,000 directly involved in manufacturing— who work hard to protect our nation at a time when new and unforeseen threats pop up with great regularity. These workers contribute to the robustness of our economy with products and services that are highly valued around the world— everything from weather observing satellites, to fuel-efficient aircraft, to path-breaking Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drones). These people are a tremendous source of innovation and technological advancement in the 21st century economy that is rapidly evolving across all continents. And they believe deeply in their noble work of keeping our country safe and secure, of advancing the frontiers of exploration, and enhancing our everyday lives. If America’s aerospace and defense workforce could be compared to a consistently strong pro football team, one key ingredient for future success is the need to replenish our technical workforce talent pool with fresh young stars so that the industry can continue its winning ways. However, we have a problem. According to one study, our established stars are getting ready to hang up their cleats; nearly 27 percent of our aerospace and defense workers are over the age of 55, with nearly 10 percent 62 years of age or older. We face the challenge, confronting an upcoming wave of retirements, of figuring out how we can prepare a pipeline of young workers from all backgrounds who have the right skills, aptitude, interest, and desire to step into jobs that require experienced engineers and skilled technicians. The aerospace and defense industry is aggressively working to help inspire, educate, train, and recruit the next generation of innovators and doers who will do their utmost to help our armed forces keep their technological advantage over potential adversaries, make air travel safer and more efficient, and make human Mars exploration possible. We are advancing our workforce development and retention objectives through exciting corporate programs that: Help place tens of thousands of college interns every summer, and support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives in school districts nationwide. Match company volunteers with under-served middle and high school students to help them prepare for higher education. Provide virtual STEM mentoring programs for high school students. Utilize the Aerospace Industries Association’s Team America Rocketry Challenge, the largest student rocket contest in the world, which gives middle and high school students a chance to pursue further STEM study and careers. We are engaged in these activities because we must refuel our technical talent pipeline with young professionals who not only have book smarts, but also the critical thinking and problem solving skills needed to overcome complex challenges that we can’t even anticipate today. If we don’t act now, we as a country will not remain globally competitive in the long haul. While industry is doing its part, government and the academic community also have a role to play. Our nation needs to keep making investments in bold research and development activities that will bring out the best of our bright young minds and keep the U.S. workforce competitive on a global scale. And our schools and universities must constantly strive to tie their curriculums and research efforts to the job opportunities of the future. Working together, we can make a positive long-term difference in not only maintaining but growing our skilled and dedicated aerospace and defense workforce. David F. Melcher (Lt. Gen. US Army-Ret.) is president and CEO, Aerospace Industries Association, Rosslyn, VA.
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