The Aerospace Industry’s Big Challenge: Attracting Young People

In recent comments by its leader, the Aerospace Industries Association admits that it's struggling to encourage diversity in its field, on top of getting younger generations interested in the first place. It's not without ideas, however, as its annual contest proves.

You’d think the aerospace industry—the field that literally designs aircraft and rockets, among other things—would sell itself to kids in the U.S.

But it’s not proving quite so easy, according to the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), which is working on the problem. Details:

The problem, in a nutshell: In short, older employees are nearing retirement age, but there aren’t younger generations of employees to replace them. In comments during the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit last week, AIA President and CEO Marion Blakey said the root of the problem is that the U.S. is falling behind on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. She also suggested the industry itself was failing to make the field attractive to graduates. “We do not have a robust pipeline of young people with the right skills and training coming into the workforce,” she said at the event. While foreign workers tend to be skilled enough to join the American workforce, the current rules require that much of the design work done for U.S. military systems be done by U.S. citizens.

Diversity also a struggle: Also at the event, Blakey noted that the industry isn’t doing a good enough job to encourage diversity—in terms of both gender and race. “We’re very concerned about diversity in the industry. We do not have both enough women (and) people of color coming in. And when we do, we tend to lose them at a greater rate,” she said, according to Reuters.

One way it’s getting kids interested: By holding a rocket competition, of course! The association—in tandem with the National Association of Rocketry—is hosting its annual Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC), which is designed for teams of students in grades 7 through 12. The program, which will accept entries this year through Dec. 12, is intended to drum up interest in STEM education. The competition this year requires each team to build a rocket with a raw egg inside. The rocket then must go up 800 feet in the air, landing between 46 and 48 seconds after launching—without cracking the egg. The 100 highest-scoring teams will compete in the finals in the spring in Washington.

The rocketry challenge appears to influence those who take part: According to a survey of TARC alumni, 81 percent go on to pursue careers in STEM fields.

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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