Posted: 11 July 2018, 4:30 p.m. EDT
Panelists: Moderator Steven Justice, executive director, Centers of Innovation, Georgia Department of Economic Development; Mary G. Adams, co-founder and program manager, Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative; Awatef Hamed, professor emeritus and Brian H. Rowe chair, Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, University of Cincinnati; Michael Heil, M.L. Heil Consulting LLC, and retired president, Ohio Aerospace Institute; Gary Mercer, vice president and general manager, Engineering Division, GE Aviation; Larry Mack, deputy director, Office of Human Capital, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center
Michele McDonald, AIAA communications manager
The aerospace industry is dealing with the tough problem of needing to reach out to elementary students to build the workforce pipeline while simultaneously hiring people right now, panelists said July 11 at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Cincinnati.
The panelists discussed ways to tackle the issue during the “Workforce Challenges and Policy Initiatives to Support the Propulsion and Energy Industry” session.
Steven Justice, panel moderator and executive director of the Centers of Innovation at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said jobs are available but tough to fill.
“There is a need across the board in all industries but especially in aerospace,” Justice said.
Panelists said strategies to address the issue of hiring for now and the future include K-12 STEM education, mentoring, attracting military veterans, volunteering, communicating excitement and purpose about the work, ongoing education of the current workforce, addressing security clearance delays, and working with the government to support workforce initiatives. Underlying all efforts is the intent to attract more women and minorities to aerospace.
Engaging elementary students in STEM is vital for the future but doesn’t help with today, said Gary Mercer, vice president and general manager of the Engineering Division at GE Aviation.
“I can’t wait 11 years,” he said.
Mercer has a message for universities: Switch the metrics to students who are graduating with STEM degrees, not just counting incoming students who may not attain degrees. Students who are struggling need support, not flunking out and leaving the field, he said.
“If we take them, keep them,” Mercer said.
This is especially true of students who are from lower-income areas and didn’t have access to STEM activities in K-12, Justice said. Bringing broadband access to rural areas is akin to the electrification of America in the last century and just as essential in bridging the STEM gap, he said.
Participants in the panel discussion "Workforce Challenges and Policy Initiatives to Support the Propulsion and Energy Industry," July 11 at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Cincinnati.
Community colleges can be game changers because they’re a better economic value than four-year universities for many technology fields, said Mary G. Adams, co-founder and program manager of the Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative.
“You’re paying less to earn more,” Adams said. “The community colleges are really part of the solution.”
Partnering with corporations and encouraging internships can show students how exciting aerospace projects can be, said Awatef Hamed, professor emeritus and Brian H. Rowe chair with the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the University of Cincinnati. Students are given real work and responsibilities that make a difference, she said.
Committing to K-12 schools is important, said Larry Mack, deputy director of the Office of Human Capital at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Marshall teams with schools in Alabama to bring more STEM experiences for students, telling them, “We’re here — we’re not leaving you,” Mack said.
Veterans are another great resource, said Michael Heil, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and retired president of the Ohio Aerospace Institute. Heil is now with M.L. Heil Consulting LLC.
Showing how exciting and impactful the field is can help keep the next generation engaged, Heil said.
“The glory years of the ’50s and ’60s ... we need to recapture that,” he said.
Aerospace jobs can lift a local economy, contribute to humanity and offer fulfilling work, Adams noted.
“It’s about U.S. competitiveness, but it’s also about your hometown,” she said.
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