The AFRL reaches out to a new generation of engineers
This research arm of the U.S. Air Force turns “science fiction into science fact.” AFRL seeks a wide range of techies to take over for retiring baby boomers
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH) is a scientific research organization operated by the United States Air Force Materiel Command. It is dedicated to researching affordable aerospace warfighting technologies for the country’s air, space and cyberspace forces. In addition to its headquarters location, the AFRL has directorates in Fort Sam, Houston, TX; Arlington, VA; Kirtland Air Force Base, NM; Rome, NY; Edwards AFB, CA; and Eglin Air Force Base, FL.
“AFRL has military and civilian employees working at various locations,” says Bryan Stevens, talent acquisition and business strategist specialist. “AFRL’s diversity of ethnicities, backgrounds, education and types of employees is what makes us a premier research and development laboratory where men and women use innovation and imagination to turn science fiction into science fact.”
AFRL jobs run the gamut of science, technology, engineering and math disciplines. “The technical skills and experience needed vary from entry level to journeyman, depending on the project and which AFRL directorate an individual is looking to work in,” Stevens says.
Filling gaps left by retiring baby boomers
Science and engineering positions at AFRL are available in the fields of aerospace, bioscience, bioengineering, chemical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, electronics engineering, physical science, industrial engineering, materials engineering and mechanical engineering. There are also positions open in mathematics, operations research, physics, psychology and toxicology.
“AFRL will have a continual need for engineers within the next twelve months due to the baby boomer population reaching retirement eligibility,” Stevens says. “We want to ensure there is knowledge transfer from our retirees to new people coming into the organization.”
AFRL recruits experienced diverse candidates through organizations like Great Minds in STEM’s Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference, the Society of Women Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference, and the National Society of Black Engineers. In addition, each AFRL directorate has relationships with universities across the U.S., including historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.
Diversity, mentoring and more
Each AFRL location has its own diversity council, Stevens reports. The councils are made up of a broad range of employees, including scientists and engineers. “Our organization is examining workforce issues as a whole and looking for creative ways to solve any problems that arise,” he adds. Among the work/life balance initiatives that AFRL offers are a thirty-two-hour workweek and telecommuting.
At headquarters, affinity groups include chapters of Blacks in Government and Federal Executive Women, plus groups for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Junior Force (for younger employees), American/Alaskan Natives, and people with disabilities.
“Our affinity groups often host cultural activities like food tastings or fashion-related events,” Stevens says. “They might have a guest speaker come in to talk about the group’s history in the country or about their own role as leaders within the federal government.”
Federal employees are required to undergo specific training or awareness programs, Stevens points out. “For instance, we are required to take training courses about persons with disabilities. In addition to the education, we become more aware of federal policies that ensure everyone is treated in a respectful way,” he says. Some trainings are mandatory for everyone, but others are geared specifically to supervisors and management.
While mentoring relationships often occur informally, Old Guns/ Young Pistols is another avenue for senior government employees to mentor junior staff.
“Every year, the Wright-Patterson Junior Force Council sponsors a Young Guns vs Old Pistols competitive sports event,” Stevens explains. “The event includes bicycling, bowling, volleyball and more. It’s an effort to encourage healthier lifestyles. It also creates new opportunities for networking with people from across the base.”
Technical employees in all directorates have the opportunity to be involved in youth outreach programs, such as judging science fairs and participating in activities for the FIRST Lego League, a robotics program for children ages nine to fourteen. AFRL employees at headquarters can participate in job shadowing for high school students and in the Wizards of Wright (WOW) program.
“For WOW, our engineers go to the different local schools and give one or two-hour STEM presentations,” says Stevens. “It’s rewarding when students write us after a presentation or science fair to let us know they appreciate what we do, and that we have inspired them to pursue a STEM career.”
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U.S. Air Force