How important is diversity to the success of aerospace and defense companies in terms of age, gender and diversity of thought?
It is a question worth pondering as one surveys the makeup of the industry as a whole: mostly Caucasian men, with nearly a third of the total workforce 50 to 59 years old. Among larger contractors, about 40% of all employees, many of them involved in major defense programs, will be eligible for retirement within several years.
Where are the women, and what can the industry do to attract and retain young engineers in greater numbers than it has managed to do up to now?
Former Northrop Grumman Chairman and CEO Ron Sugar and I led a discussion on these topics at a recent Executive Roundtable focused solely on the A&D workforce. The goal was to identify steps the industry could take to address what will become an increasingly critical issue.
When you consider that the aerospace and defense industry is in the vanguard of national security, produces some of the most exciting technology ever imagined for both civil and military applications, and is essential to economic growth, you have to wonder why more young people considering career choices are not drawn to A&D.
Could a big part of the problem be how the industry presents itself to the public and that the time is long past due for A&D to rebrand itself?
That was the consensus of the 40 or so executives who participated in the discussion. In the most recent survey on workforce conducted by Aviation Week, a sizeable percentage of young people were asked what they value most professionally. Answer: they want a challenging work environment. Companies like Apple and Google are magnets for young people, but can you imagine any of the 20 largest companies trying to duplicate the work environment that exists in those iconic enterprises? Probably not. You do not want your culture to look too different from that of your customer, one senior executive observed.
But Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, is doing just that, courtesy of Elon Musk, CEO and chief technology officer. SpaceX is such a departure from the traditional aerospace company that its slogan might as well read, 'Innovations Are Us.' Small wonder that the company is having no difficulty attracting and retaining the best and brightest.
I fully expect some constructive initiatives to come out of the Executive Roundtable, though implementing them will require buy-in from a broader industry representation than we had at the Executive Roundtable. More difficult to attain but no less important will be an honest self-assessment by companies of what they need to do to address long-term workforce issues.