6–10 January 2020
Hyatt Regency Orlando,
Orlando, Florida

Growing, Complex Systems Changing Industry Workforce Needs


Moderator Dan Dumbacher, executive director, AIAA; Tim Cahill, vice president, Integrated Air and Missile Defense, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control; Stephen Morford, vice president, Core Systems Engineering, Pratt & Whitney; Michael Moses, president, Virgin Galactic; Tom Pieronek, vice president of basic research, Northop Grumman Aerospace Systems; Tamaira Ross, principal manager, New Glenn System Definition and Design, Blue Origin

by Lawrence Garrett, AIAA web editor

AIAA SCITECH FORUM, San Diego, Jan. 11, 2019 — Panelists in the “Workforce Needs of the 21st Century” session highlighted the need for more innovative, creative and adaptive engineers to meet the dynamic and accelerating challenges of the future.

Dan Dumbacher, AIAA executive director, said it was during his time at NASA that he first noticed the changing educational requirements needed to meet the future demands of the aerospace industry. He said the discussion is vital today to help the younger generation in particular.

“I find it extremely important that we have this conversation and look at what is needed in the industry so that ... our educational system can be changed up,” Dumbacher said.

Tim Cahill, vice president of Integrated Air and Missile Defense at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said one of the primary challenges is the growing complexity of systems with more and more integration. He also cited the accelerated pace of that growth.

“There’s just not time to react,” he said.

Cahill said the biggest need in his organization is for system engineers, simulation engineers and “folks [who] know how to put those big systems together in ways that make them effective.”

Stephen Morford, vice president of Core Systems Engineering at Pratt & Whitney, said the needs of the 21st century workforce boil down to three things: more capability, lower cost of ownership and more predictable behavior of the system.

Morford agreed with Cahill on the growing importance of complex systems integration and said that aerospace engineers need to “start thinking as system engineers,” capable of working in cognitive command and control environments and knowledgeable about the connectivity of today’s aircraft.

“When I look at airplanes, connectivity of systems is greater than it ever has been, and it’s only going to get better and better,” he said.


Participants in the panel discussion "Workforce Needs of the 21st Century,” Jan. 11 at the 2019 AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition (AIAA SciTech 2019) in San Diego.

Michael Moses, president of Virgin Galactic, touched on the unique regulatory environment that commercial space operates in, where there’s no certified approach or hardware built to a prescribed method certified by government.

“The operation is what is licensed,” he explained.

Therefore, he said, his organization is looking for people who can solve problems creatively or without established references. Moses suggests aiming for an “innovative, inventive, adaptive workforce.”

Tom Pieronek, vice president of basic research at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, agreed about the “increasing connectivity of the systems” requiring more creativity. He suggested a future workforce that incorporates more fundamental science into their problem-solving.

Tamaira Ross, principal manager of the New Glenn System Definition and Design at Blue Origin, said technical diversity is another important 21st century workforce need.

“As engineers, we’re system integrators for a large part,” she said. “That means we need mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, lots of different types of engineering and technical backgrounds.”

Watch the full video for more details.

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