Rockwell Collins also focuses on the individual as it looks at the company's technical capability. To enable employees to make the most of every tool, Rockwell Collins University offers classroom and computer-based training. “Second, we make sure the engineering tools we have are new and appropriate,” Jones says. “That's tough in our industry because the products we support may have 10, 20 years on wing and are based on pretty old toolsets. But we are always adding that next level, a blend of new as we retain the old.” The company uses a centralized repository to manage the collection and distribution of resources.
Jones is reticent to stress how much time each employee spends in training. The company places special emphasis on developing leaders at every level of the organization because “people learn best from other people.” Rockwell Collins wants to ensure that mentors, supervisors and leaders meet the expectation.
Discussing economic duress or potential defense budget cuts due to the U.S. legislative process of sequestration, Jones says, “we try to put this into context and be open. Our history as a company has shown that these cycles do happen and we have been able to perform well when the recovery has come.”
Using an aggressive performance evaluation process for employees, he believes his organization has a good handle on talent and skills. “Where we can and where skill sets and geography match, we are moving people from government to the commercial side,” he says. 'We constructed our business model around being able to do this.”
Jones believes Rockwell Collins's aggregate level of investment will continue at 17-20% of sales, just as it has for the past 15 years. “I really see no reasonable alternative, if you want to stay in business and serve customers,” he says. “This is a high-investment business; R&D is our lifeblood. We've been through six business cycles [up and down] since we spun out in 2001, and through all those cycles we have maintained this level.”
Jones predicts three basic investment changes. First, the company will put some commercial R&D dollars into proprietary or discretionary government investment, a requirement for the second change, international government sales. Third, Rockwell Collins will invest in improved products that make more efficient use of airspace, improve safety or life-cycle agility and support.
Austin's Aerospace Corp. faces the dilemma of being 100% defense, all the time. Austin focuses on working in ways that are less onerous, including partnering with for-profit groups to virtually exchange information and access databases, improve information technology structure and reduce the time to accomplish work through collaboration.
She is particularly mindful of the need to maintain hiring gains made with young professionals. Her organization, which employs many people with doctorates, has worked tirelessly in the past five years to bring in new college graduates. “We have to engage this new generation into our thinking,” she says. “Things we thought we would never allow—YouTube, Facebook, other social media—we now use to make this a comfortable environment that allows them to bring their perspective to bear. These [technologies] are part of their DNA; to us, it is a strap-on and we have to think about how we might use the technology.”
Austin has a clear understanding of the risks she and other defense-side employers face. “I met with a group of recent hires yesterday,” she said in mid-July. “Their first question was about sequestration. I told them that what we are doing now is helping our customers understand the value we, Aerospace Corp., bring.
“They need to be able to talk this message themselves, and why they chose this field. I remind them about exploration, about discovering new capabilities and about the fabulous things we do. Space is part of daily life, like turning the lights on. We have to keep that.”