Aerospace firms start­ing young in their tal­ent searches

Houston Chronicle - - EXTRA TECHNOLOGY + GADGETS - By Sa­man­tha Ma­sunaga | Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — USC me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing ju­nior Stephanie Balais de­vel­oped a pas­sion for aerospace af­ter join­ing the univer­sity’s AeroDe­sign team and help­ing to con­struct an air­plane fuse­lage hours be­fore trans­port­ing the plane to a com­pe­ti­tion in Kansas.

As in­tern­ships beck­oned, she sent in a num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions to top de­fense and aerospace firms. But Mi­crosoft Corp. snagged her first. This sum­mer, Balais, 20, will spend 13 weeks in Red­mond, Wash., work­ing in the tech gi­ant’s man­u­fac­tur­ing and sup­ply chain depart­ment.

Sil­i­con Val­ley and other tech cen­ters have al­ways been pop­u­lar land­ing places for young en­gi­neers, with their lure of cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy and top-notch pay. But aerospace com­pa­nies are fac­ing an even stiffer chal­lenge as web and com­puter com­pa­nies, and other sec­tors like the auto in­dus­try, move into ar­eas like drones and au­ton­o­mous sys­tems.

Aerospace em­ploy­ers are re­al­iz­ing they have to dig deeper — and ad­just their mes­sag­ing — to cap­ture top tech tal­ent.

They are start­ing to reach out ear­lier to po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees — as early as ele­men­tary school or even pre-kinder­garten — to get them in­ter­ested in sci­ence and math. And they’re rec­og­niz­ing the chal­lenge they have build­ing aware­ness with a gen­er­a­tion that never had a real space race, but grew up with Google, Snapchat and Ap­ple as part of their daily lives.

“This is some­thing that’s very crit­i­cal to our mem­ber com­pa­nies,” said Dan Stohr, spokesman for the Aerospace In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion trade group. “They’re putting se­ri­ous money into this, to the tune of mil­lions of dol­lars a year.”

Lock­heed Martin Corp. has launched a pro­gram called Gen­er­a­tion Be­yond aimed at en­cour­ag­ing mid­dle school stu­dents’ in­ter­est in deep space ex­plo­ration. The ini­tia­tive in­cludes a class cur­ricu­lum, a down­load­able Mars weather app and a trav­el­ing school bus mod­i­fied so that chil­dren rid­ing it can see the Mar­tian land­scape through the win­dows.

“One of the things we’ve been see­ing is that this gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily know or have grown up with Lock­heed Martin, as their par­ents did,” said Steve Hatch, the com­pany’s di­rec­tor for cen­tral tal­ent ac­qui­si­tion, of cur­rent col­lege stu­dents. “As we look at the com­pe­ti­tion, how do we go at­tract that tal­ent sooner . but at the same time, get them in­ter­ested in STEM.”

In early 2015, Northrop Grum­man Corp. opened an in­no­va­tion cen­ter called NG Next based in Re­dondo Beach, Calif., where it is dou­bling down on ba­sic re­search to fig­ure out so­lu­tions to prob­lems that may be years in the fu­ture. The or­ga­ni­za­tion takes a more ag­gres­sive ap­proach to ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, which can be at­trac­tive to po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees look­ing for a cre­ative work en­vi­ron­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of La­bor Statis­tics, about 26,000 aerospace en­gi­neers were em­ployed as of May 2015 in prod­uct and parts man­u­fac­tur­ing, a cat­e­gory that cov­ers about 70 per­cent of the aerospace and de­fense in­dus­try, but ex­cludes many sup­pli­ers in sec­tors like ship­build­ing. Join­ing them were about 5,900 elec­tri­cal en­gi­neers, about 14,000 me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neers and 12,000 soft­ware de­vel­op­ers of sys­tems soft­ware.

In com­puter and elec­tronic prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ing, there were about 5,700 aerospace en­gi­neers, 30,300 elec­tri­cal en­gi­neers, 18,400 me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neers and 48,600 soft­ware de­vel­op­ers of sys­tems soft­ware.

De­fense firms have long main­tained a pres­ence on col­lege cam­puses, whether at ca­reer fairs, spon­sor­ing stu­dent en­gi­neer­ing com­pe­ti­tions, serv­ing on deans’ or depart­ment ad­vi­sory boards or pro­vid­ing schol­ar­ships.

“Stu­dents en­counter Google and Ama­zon fre­quently on the web,” said Jay­athi Murthy, dean of UCLA’s En­gi­neer­ing School. “So in or­der for (de­fense com­pa­nies) to be heard above that, they re­ally need to en­gage with us on cam­pus, and they do.”

A meet­ing with a Northrop Grum­man ex­ec­u­tive dur­ing a USC re­cruit­ing event piqued Justin Jame­son’s in­ter­est in work­ing at the com­pany. It ended up be­ing the only place he ap­plied to af­ter grad­u­at­ing from USC in 2009. Jame­son, 29, has now worked at Northrop Grum­man for more than seven years.

“I looked at a lot of the big con­sult­ing com­pa­nies as well, but at Northrop Grum­man, they of­fered me the chance to come in and work on real prob­lems,” he said. “At a con­sult­ing com­pany, I would be solv­ing some­one else’s prob­lems.”

De­fense firms em­pha­size a mis­sion of na­tional se­cu­rity with re­cruits, said Robin Thurman, di­rec­tor of work­force pol­icy at the Aerospace In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion. And the unique, real-world na­ture of the work gives it a “cool” fac­tor for some stu­dents.

“In the in­ter­net world, they’re go­ing to work on ad­ver­tis­ing al­go­rithms . big data anal­y­sis, which can be fun and ex­cit­ing and in­ter­est­ing,” said Chris Her­nan­dez, vice pres­i­dent of NG Next. “But I’d like to com­pare my air­planes and space­craft to that any day of the week.”

Ti­mothy John, an aerospace en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent at UCLA, has been in­ter­ested in space ex­plo­ration since ele­men­tary school and has sent out a num­ber of job ap­pli­ca­tions to de­fense com­pa­nies.

John, 25, said he’s look­ing for longevity and growth in po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers, but also hopes to work on an air­plane or space­craft.

“I’m pretty in­dis­crim­i­nate,” he said. “Any projects that in­clude planes, like any­thing with a jet tur­bine, like a F-16 or F-22 or stealth bombers. Or even mis­siles.”

Though Northrop Grum­man’s NG Next was not es­tab­lished specif­i­cally for re­cruit­ing, it has be­come a use­ful tool in hir­ing, Her­nan­dez said. New em­ploy­ees can be part of an en­vi­ron­ment of rapid de­vel­op­ment and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion not gen­er­ally as­so­ci­ated with large de­fense con­trac­tors.

“For us to achieve the great things that we need to achieve to solve the na­tion’s tough­est prob­lems, we have to push hard,” Her­nan­dez said.

Mar­cus Yam /Los Angeles Times

Ti­mothy John, 25, an aerospace en­gi­neer­ing se­nior at UCLA, hopes to go into the de­fense in­dus­try and work on an air­plane or space­craft.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.