Florida’s role piv­otal to ex­pand­ing the aero­space work force

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By David F. Melcher Guest colum­nist

Last month marked the 60th an­niver­sary of the Space Age. The Soviet Union’s launch of Sput­nik on Oct. 4, 1957, jolted Amer­ica out of our tech­no­log­i­cal com­pla­cency. For­tu­nately, we re­sponded to the chal­lenge. We in­vested in a gen­er­a­tion of sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers through the Na­tional De­fense Ed­u­ca­tion Act. We cre­ated NASA and the De­fense Ad­vanced Re­search Projects Agency to as­sure Amer­ica is never sur­prised or sur­passed by ri­val pow­ers in space or by new tech­nolo­gies.

And within 12 years, we were launch­ing crews from the Kennedy Space Cen­ter to the sur­face of the moon. Our coun­try dur­ing this time also pi­o­neered the jet age in air travel and de­vel­oped the break­through de­fense tech­nolo­gies that helped win the Cold War.

Cur­rently, our na­tion de­pends more than ever on an aero­space and de­fense in­dus­try that spurs in­no­va­tion in space, civil avi­a­tion and de­fense to en­hance our na­tion’s strength, se­cu­rity and eco­nomic pros­per­ity. And Florida is piv­otal to our in­dus­try’s record of in­no­va­tion.

We all marvel at the com­mer­cial and govern­ment rock­ets that take off from Cape Canaveral to lowEarth or­bit, the plan­ets and be­yond. We are more se­cure thanks to the state’s many mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties that pro­tect our home­land and, in the case of the Tampa-based U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, help project U.S. power through­out the globe. Florida’s role as an air trans­porta­tion hub for the Caribbean and Cen­tral and South Amer­ica en­hances our na­tion’s pros­per­ity.

With its rich space her­itage, strong ed­u­ca­tion and re­search in­fra­struc­ture and vi­brant, busi­ness-friendly en­vi­ron­ment, Florida hosts many of the na­tion’s lead­ing aero­space and de­fense com­pa­nies. These com­pa­nies em­ploy the 76,000-plus work­ers who ac­count for 10 per­cent of Florida’s ex­ports and 1 per­cent of the na­tion’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

To­day, at the Har­ris Corp.’s Tech­nol­ogy Cen­ter in Palm Bay, lead­ers from in­dus­try, state govern­ment, academia and non­prof­its are con­ven­ing to talk about the aero­space and de­fense work force. The goal is to pur­sue greater col­lab­o­ra­tion and part­ner­ships in ef­forts to in­spire, teach and re­cruit the next gen­er­a­tion of aero­space and de­fense in­dus­try sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers and lead­ers.

So how is this goal best achieved? In ad­dress­ing sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, ed­u­ca­tion and math work-force is­sues, we of­ten think about the chal­lenges of ad­e­quately re­sourc­ing our schools, pro­vid­ing in­cen­tives to bright young teach­ers, and en­gag­ing par­ents and stu­dents in the ad­ven­ture of STEM learn­ing. Our in­dus­try plays a huge role in these ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, and we work hard to com­mu­ni­cate with stu­dents, par­ents and teach­ers about the re­ward­ing and ex­cit­ing ca­reers we of­fer young peo­ple.

For ex­am­ple, at the Aero­space In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion, we’re proud of our sig­na­ture STEM pro­gram, the Team Amer­ica Rock­etry Chal­lenge. The world’s largest stu­dent rocket con­test, TARC, has in­spired thou­sands of ju­nior and se­nior high-school stu­dents to pur­sue the dis­ci­plines re­lated to our in­dus­try. One of our ed­u­ca­tional part­ners, Em­bry-Rid­dle Aero­nau­ti­cal Univer­sity in Day­tona Beach, of­fers a schol­ar­ship for TARC par­tic­i­pants.

We also know, how­ever, that our in­dus­try must do more to de­velop a work force that mir­rors the di­ver­sity of our coun­try. Women, for ex­am­ple, make up only 30 per­cent of Florida’s aero­space and de­fense work force. Also, with more than 25 per­cent of Florida’s aero­space and de­fense work force at or near­ing re­tire­ment age, we need to pay more at­ten­tion to the in­cen­tives young pro­fes­sion­als have for choos­ing and stay­ing in our in­dus­try.

And we must do a bet­ter job of train­ing non­col­lege-bound stu­dents for good aero­space and de­fense man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs with ex­panded ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion train­ing and com­mu­nity-col­lege part­ner­ship pro­grams.

The Se­nate can help ad­vance progress on work-force is­sues by send­ing the Strength­en­ing Ca­reer and Tech­ni­cal Ed­u­ca­tion for the 21st Cen­tury Act, which passed the House unan­i­mously in June, to the pres­i­dent’s desk as soon as pos­si­ble. Both Sens. Bill Nel­son and Marco Ru­bio re­cently sent a let­ter urg­ing the rel­e­vant com­mit­tee to do just this.

The is­sues be­ing ad­dressed in Palm Bay are not ab­stract. If we don’t re­fuel our tech­ni­cal tal­ent pipeline with young pro­fes­sion­als and tech­ni­cians who not only have book smarts, but also the crit­i­cal think­ing and prob­lem-solv­ing skills needed to over­come com­plex chal­lenges we can’t even an­tic­i­pate to­day, we as a coun­try will not re­main com­pet­i­tive in the long haul.

That’s why Florida’s com­mit­ment to en­gage a va­ri­ety of stake­hold­ers in in­vest­ing in the de­vel­op­ment of its avi­a­tion and aero­space work force is a most wel­come de­vel­op­ment.

Lt. Gen. David F. Melcher (U.S. Army, re­tired) is the pres­i­dent and CEO of the Aero­space In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.