7–11 January 2019
Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego,
San Diego, California

Workforce Needs for Advances in Aerospace

Posted: 13 January 2017, 3:30 p.m. EST

Moderator Darryll Pines, dean and Nariman Farvardin professor of aerospace engineering, A. James Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland; Curt Carlson, founder and CEO, The Practice of Innovation; Ben Marchionna, lead system integration and test engineer, SkySpecs; Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator, NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate; Dennis Todd, vice president of engineering services and support, Boeing Commercial Airplanes; Graham Warwick, technology managing editor, Aviation Week & Space Technology

by Lawrence Garrett, AIAA web editor

The aerospace industry will undoubtedly continue to transform society in positive ways for decades to come despite the challenges it faces with attracting and retaining younger talent, a panel of industry experts said Jan. 13 at 2017 AIAA SciTech Forum in Grapevine, Texas.

Darryll Pines, moderator for the "Next Generation Workforce" panel, said the collective mission is to figure out the needs of the workforce and explore methods by which industry, academia and government can "work together to create the workforce of the future."

"We must do all we can to create a future workforce that is well-prepared to weather the disruptive events and recognize and utilize technologies and create disruptive ideas as we go forward," said Pines, dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland.

Graham Warwick, technology managing editor at Aviation Week & Space Technology, said one challenge is the low retirement rate in the aerospace industry. He said he thinks it's due to a commitment to the industry and the work as well as to the strategies companies use.

However, Warwick maintained that job movement is key for young professionals. 

"It's a means to an end for them, to develop skills and advance," he said.

Warwick cited an industry workforce study that showed aerospace is still a desirable field and noted it's important for leaders to understand and address the expectations of what younger employees want.

"Most of the work people are doing … has no value," suggested Curt Carlson, founder and CEO of The Practice of Innovation, adding that most failure "starts at the start."

Carlson explained what's often lacking from the equation is value proposition.

"Nobody cares, really, if they succeed with a project," he said, suggesting the remedy is better understanding what people want and then helping foster those types of work environments and career opportunities.

In regards to progressing in today's world of rapid innovation, Carlson said, "You need to have an environment that's open, transparent and where intense learning takes place all the time."

He said younger aerospace workers want the industry to offer the necessary skills for a successful career for life — not just 10 years.

Representing young professionals on the panel, Ben Marchionna, lead systems integration and test engineer at SkySpecs, said he doesn't necessarily believe millennials require a purpose to energize them.

"Ultimately … millennials get excited by this idea of getting a group of really motivated people together and solving some insurmountable challenge, particularly when everyone else thinks it can't be done," he said. "They get really excited about that — and this is what's it's all about for millennials."

Dennis Todd, vice president of engineering services and support at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said the commercial airplane market is expected to continue to grow and double in size over the next 20 years and that the market for new products and services is "still tremendous" and remains "a big draw."

As Todd explained, the workforce and technologies needed to sustain this market will continue to evolve.

"We'll always need aero engineers, propulsion engineers, avionics engineers," he said, noting the skillsets needed to continue building these evolving products need to be flexible and innovative.

Todd said Boeing's focus is on developing skills that can evolve.                                                             

Touching upon a challenge facing the aeronautics sector, Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, said it's important the sector come up with a unique way to keep pace with the speed of innovation.

Shin said one of the major opportunities at hand is bringing together all of the "seemingly disparate technologies, like autonomy, electric power management systems and communications.

"We can really capitalize on those technologies and show what can happen through aviation," he said.

Shin echoed his fellow panelists' belief that it's important to communicate to the younger generation that aviation and the aerospace industry is not a dying or boring industry.

"I think it's just a matter of packaging things right," he said, adding that it's important for the younger generation to understand the aerospace industry is growing and could change society in a "very transformational way."

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