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Changing technologies

Aerospace & defense: facing down the challenge of retirement brain drain

Savvy companies are hiring now and setting knowledge transfer in motion. Are they looking for you?

Diversity plays a vital role in this high-tech world, where considerations of intelligence, defense and homeland security must often be added to the
basics of aerospace

At the NGA, Dr Young Suk Sull provides technology-oriented solutions.
At the NGA, Dr Young Suk Sull provides technology-oriented solutions.
MSEE Arnel Alverio works as an image scientist at ITT Space Systems.
MSEE Arnel Alverio works as an image scientist at ITT Space Systems.

The aerospace and defense industries are watching the horizon, expecting many of their highly experienced engineers and technical experts to retire in the next five to ten years. Companies are hiring now and setting knowledge transfer in motion. The aim is to ensure that the next generation of engineers and scientists will have access to the industry’s “institutional memory”: the standards and measures created and understood by these seasoned professionals.

Aerotek (, a major U.S. provider of technical and engineering staffing, works with aerospace and defense firms and is acutely aware of the industry’s needs. Fred Winstead, Aerotek VP of sales, says that “One of the most significant changes affecting the aerospace industry is the ratio of supply versus demand of the workforce.

“The number of university graduates with engineering degrees is significantly lower than the number of engineers leaving the aerospace field,” he points out. “This is creating a hiring challenge for the aerospace and defense industry.”

Diversity’s vital role
Companies understand that diversity plays a vital role in filling these positions. Aerotek, for example, has established a corporate partnership with Advancing Minorities’ Interest in Engineering (AMIE), which works with leading companies and HBCUs to increase the diversity of the engineering workforce. Aerotek also partners directly with HBCUs to promote career opportunities in engineering.

Companies are hiring from a variety of technical backgrounds, especially engineering, to fill their needs, Winstead adds. Popular skills include systems engineering and software development. Software, hardware and stress/structural expertise is in the highest demand right now.

Multiculturalism at the NGA
Lloyd Rowland, deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA, Bethesda, MD), is acutely aware of the situation. In addition to the ongoing threat of terrorism, he feels that “Our nation’s growing multiculturalism and increasingly global economy make it more important today than ever before to have a diverse workforce and inclusive working environment.”

The agency’s mission is to partner with the intelligence and defense communities. The geospatial intelligence it contributes includes imagery, imagery intelligence, and mapping, charting and geodesy information.

Dr Young Suk Sull is an NGA technical advisor
Dr Young Suk Sull.
Dr Young Suk Sull.
Senior technical advisor Dr Young Suk Sull is an example of the diverse talent NGA has on staff. Sull was brought in as a technical information specialist to translate languages on maps and charts.

Raised in Seoul, Korea, she has a 1969 MA in Germanic languages and literature from the University of Munich, Germany and a 1980 PhD in linguistics from George Washington University (Washington, DC). After she started at NGA she took classes in remote sensing and cartography and eventually moved into more technical roles.

She’s currently on a rotational assignment, working to better understand analysts’ needs and translate them into technology-oriented solutions.

Her favorite projects at NGA involve R&D on new initiatives, where professionals from universities and industry work together. She says she “cherishes those breakthrough moments” that come about when she and her colleagues are “shooting for the stars.”

Henry Williams: manager of process planning at Bell Helicopter Textron
Henry Williams.
Henry Williams.
Henry Williams earned a 1982 BSME specializing in industrial technology and mechanical design at Truman State University (Kirksville, MO). He’s been with Bell Helicopter Textron (Fort Worth, TX) since 1990, working in various positions involving computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM).

One of his current responsibilities is managing the department that writes work instructions for assembly of the company’s aircraft. The deliverables include a description of tools needed, specifications and a detailed set of instructions. He also orders the tools and makes sure they get to the shop and the fabricators know how to use them.

“In the old days we used drawing stations and often enough had to print up ten sheets for one dimension,” he recalls.

His work helped to change that. A challenging project overhauling shop drawing acquisition earned him the Textron chairman’s award. “Now we access drawings from our desktops and print out only the ones we need,” says Williams. “We eliminated the microfiche machines and special printers and saved millions of dollars.”

Williams appreciates how the civil rights movement paved the way for African Americans in professional fields. “My cousin was in the first generation to benefit from the movement,” he recalls. “In the ‘60s there were black men with engineering degrees who worked as clerks or janitors because they couldn’t get a professional job. But my cousin worked his way up to a job in manufacturing engineering and he really inspired me!”

“Early in my own career,” Williams reflects, “I was often the only black person at the meeting, the only black person at the party. But I didn’t focus on that. I figured if I did the right thing it would work out, and it has.

Kim Bell crunches numbers at the Aerospace Corp
Kim Bell.
Kim Bell.
A cost estimate is only as good as the data that goes into it. When it comes to development, procurement and maintenance of space- and ground-related software apps, Kim Bell understands the systems, crunches the numbers and formulates detailed cost estimates.

Bell is an engineering specialist with the Aerospace Corp (El Segundo, CA). She does lifecycle and schedule analysis of space and ground systems, which includes identifying issues that impact development and operation costs.

Bell’s career at the Aerospace Corp began in admin, long before she earned her 1998 BS in math and 2002 MS in applied math at California State University-Long Beach.

“I started in 1994 as a secretary,” she explains. “In that position I was exposed to the brightest engineers and they encouraged me to utilize the corporate education assistance program. I worked full-time while I obtained my degrees, and I had a lot of encouragement from my peers and from management.”

As her technical skills increased she transitioned from a support role to her current work. “It pays to get involved with high-profile projects, even if it means getting out of your comfort zone,” she advises.

Christopher Jelks: structures engineer at Pratt & Whitney
Christopher Jelks.
Christopher Jelks.
As a structures engineer, Christopher Jelks applies his skills to the rotating parts of turbines. Jelks works for Pratt & Whitney (East Hartford, CT), where he’s currently optimizing the service life of military engines. “My co-op experience really prepared me to understand the fundamental concepts of jet engines,” Jelks notes. He completed his BS in aerospace engineering in 2005 at the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH).

As a relative newcomer, he’s pleased with the warm reception he got at Pratt & Whitney. Last year he was president of the company’s newcomer club; some of his closest friends are folks he met at the office. He’s a past member of the work/life balance improvements team at the turbine module center.

He’s also president of the local NSBE alumni chapter. “We do a lot of work with the high school and college chapters,” says Jelks. “We’re really trying to increase the presence of minorities in the field.

“I love spending time with the clubs, and on the job I get to present information to senior management, which makes my work here even more fulfilling,” he says with satisfaction.

Dr Jana Schwartz: senior tech staffer at Draper Lab
Dr Jana Schwartz.
Dr Jana Schwartz.
Jana Schwartz, PhD, is good at streamlining navigation systems. She makes them easier and less costly to produce and, most importantly, more accurate. Schwartz is a senior member of technical staff at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc (Cambridge, MA). Her 1999 BS, 2002 MS and 2004 PhD in aerospace engineering are from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Schwartz enjoys the creativity of her post, and also the interaction she has with students. Draper Lab is right across the street from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and there’s a strong collaboration between the college and the lab. “Students have so much energy, it’s really infectious,” says Schwartz. “Especially freshman; they’re so creative.”

At Draper, Schwartz may be working on navigation systems for space travel to the moon or Mars. Or she may be searching for resources below the earth’s surface. Many of her colleagues are women, she notes.

On the job she’ll often bring together a group of experts in varying disciplines. She sees a parallel between her teams’ work and that of the systems they design: “Our systems work for our customers and our teams work toward a common goal.”

Jeanne Benoit, principal HR director at Draper, notes that the organization is looking to bring in engineers with degrees in aeronautical science and aeronautical physics, as well as EEs, MEs, optical, RF, biomedical systems and software engineers. More than half the Draper openings are for mid-level people; about 30 percent are entry level.

“We have a lot of wonderful new projects, especially from NASA and the Department of Defense,” Benoit states. “Our management team is working to increase the number of women and minorities employed here, as well as veterans and people with disabilities. Having a diverse workforce makes us a richer organization.”

Paulette January: senior software quality engineer at DRS
Paulette January.
Paulette January.
At DRS Technologies, Inc (Parsippany, NJ), Paulette January is a senior software quality engineer. It’s her job to make sure military pilots are getting the training they need from the equipment she helps design. Verifying and validating, she works on major military programs like the P5 air combat training system and the Joint Strike Fighter.

“I look at a system’s requirements from the beginning: what goes into the design, how to develop, control and test it, how to get it into the field. Once the system’s in the field I use customer feedback and reports from our own field engineers to check that everything is performing as required,” says January. “We’re constantly updating our systems.”

Her favorite project is an airborne instrumentation pod that lets pilots simulate military combat missions for training purposes. Information is recorded during the simulation; the pilots review the data to learn how to increase their effectiveness during combat.

January grew up in a small town in Alabama and received her BSCS from Alabama A&M University in 1985. Through her career she’s seen more and more women come into engineering. Her team works well together, she notes. “We’ve all been here a long time. We have good work ethics and a nice work environment. More than anything we want to get our product out and do a good job of supporting our military.”

January is active with IEEE, where she’s newsletter editor for the society’s Women in Engineering organization.

Andrea Mandell, senior VP of HR at DRS Technologies, says the company’s objective is to find the most talented employees. “We need to provide American soldiers with equipment they can depend on to execute their missions as safely as possible, so we want to attract a diverse and talented workforce.” That, she notes, includes folks with prior military experience.

Arnel Alverio: image scientist at ITT Space Systems
Arnel Alverio.
Arnel Alverio.
Imaging science, says Arnel Alverio of ITT Space Systems Division (Rochester, NY), is “the science of images and the systems that produce them. Engineers and scientists in this field design systems that acquire data remotely, and then develop ways to interpret the data they’ve collected.”

Alverio earned his BSEE at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez in 2001. He then moved to the mainland to work for Eastman Kodak (Rochester, NY) and completed the company’s image science career development program. He went on to an MSEE from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2003. In 2004, his Kodak group became ITT Space Systems Division, and Alverio stayed with his team.

He’s used his skills to help develop imaging systems for the Global Hawk and Predator Air Force platforms. On the administrative side he worked on an educational program that helps new hires learn from the existing knowledge base of company procedures and practices.

Involved in networks and organizations, Alverio keeps busy at the office and in his community. He helped launch the Hispanic and Latino network at ITT Space Systems, and developed a mentoring program for a largely Hispanic elementary school in the Rochester area.

He’s also been involved in the company’s recruiting efforts. The division has hired fifteen technical grads from Mayagüez.

“Growing up in Puerto Rico everybody was Hispanic, of course,” says Alverio. “Here, I need to be involved to get back to my roots. I think I gain as much from my volunteering as the students do.”

Mary Sage: sophisticated software projects at ENSCO
Mary Sage.
Mary Sage.
Mary Sage, a senior software engineer for ENSCO (formerly Energy Services Co, Falls Church, VA), develops software for remote sensors that find and assess underground facilities around the world.

Sage was encouraged to study computer science by two Catholic nuns who taught at her all-girl high school. Those perceptive teachers, she notes, later received national education awards for their teaching of math and science.

“I hadn’t even realized I had an affinity for math,” Sage says. “They encouraged us to do what we wanted to do and expected us to do well.” Sage went on to earn her 1986 BSCS and 1987 masters of engineering in CS at the University of Louisville (Louisville, KY).

Throughout her career, Sage has been involved with sophisticated and challenging projects. One was the tactical terrain analyzer, used during the first Gulf War to hunt SCUD missiles. Another was the first responder incident simulation system (FRISS), a dispersion program which could be used to calculate potential damage from toxic releases such as anthrax bacillus or chlorine gas.

Despite its ultra-serious work, ENSCO maintains a family-friendly atmosphere. Sage appreciates the presence of women at all levels of the company. She notes that ENSCO is interested, on a personal level, in its customers, its employees and the employees’ families.

Auretha Baldwin: engineering management at Lockheed Martin
Auretha Baldwin.
Auretha Baldwin.
Auretha Baldwin is a multi-functional engineering and science manager for Lockheed Martin Corp (Bethesda, MD). She light-heartedly describes her job as the “care and feeding” of techies and other people in her charge.

Those are software and system engineers, and the administrative folks who help support Lockheed’s government customers. “You’ll always have some employee issues,” says Baldwin. “It’s my job to make each issue a win-win situation.”

“I know in this role I’m making a difference,” Baldwin declares. “People tell me they appreciate working for me.”

Baldwin realized she wanted to pursue engineering when she attended a high school summer technology camp. She went on to a 1984 BS in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and a 1997 MS in engineering management from George Washington University (Washington, DC).

Before moving into management, Baldwin worked in software testing. She had to understand the programs and interact with the programmers. “If there was a problem, I tried to find if a developer had made a mistake,” she says. “They knew we were working together to solve the problem.”

Now, as a manger, Baldwin mentors her people both casually and formally, and maintains an open-door policy for all. “I want people to be able to talk with me,” she says. “No matter what my own deadlines are, I’ll manage to schedule some time. People appreciate that.”

Brooke Castro: building a knowledge base at Parker Aerospace
Brooke Castro.
Brooke Castro.
The aerospace group of Parker Hannifin Corp (Cleveland, OH) is a global producer of flight control, hydraulic, fuel, and pneumatic aircraft and engine systems and components. The company has great quantities of technical know-how within its corporate walls. At Parker and throughout the aerospace industry, it’s up to people like Brooke Castro to make sure that knowledge isn’t lost as today’s experts near retirement.

Castro is a project engineer for the 350-person Parker Aerospace control systems division. She’s a member of the engineering services team, whose mission is to bring people, knowledge, processes and tools together to build and maintain a knowledge base and educate others in the organization.

Castro helps review and evaluate various design processes with an eye to improving procedures. To capture this knowledge she works with in-house engineering experts, documenting the knowledge they’ve built up over the years so it’s accessible to everyone. With her team, she’s building a central repository of engineering knowledge, along with tools to standardize processes from design to project management.

“We have an impressive body of knowledge here,” says Castro. “Some of our design engineers developed revolutionary and important aspects of aerospace actuation technology.”

Castro earned her 1993 BSME at California State University at Fullerton. She was attracted by Parker’s internship program and the broad range of opportunities in aerospace. Fourteen years later, she still finds aerospace work “fascinating.”

Wendy Gutierrez: following the skyward dream at Rockwell Collins
Wendy Gutierrez.
Wendy Gutierrez.
Wendy Gutierrez didn’t just study planes, she flew them. Growing up in Mexico City, Mexico she developed a skyward dream. She followed it to the U.S. to find better professional opportunities.

She completed an associates degree in flight technology at the Alabama Aviation and Technical College (Ozark, AL) in 1992, then went on to Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL) where she earned a 1995 BS in aerospace engineering.

Gutierrez is now a flight management system (FMS) senior system engineer at Rockwell Collins, Inc (Cedar Rapids, IA). She works with the “black boxes that help navigate planes, getting them from A to B,” she says.

These controls combine technologies like global positioning systems (GPS), databases and radio navigation. As technology is developed and upgraded, navigation systems are constantly revised and updated.

“It’s not like the GPS in your car,” Gutierrez explains. “You can’t just take equipment off the shelf. We have to follow stringent quality controls.”

Along with her design duties, Gutierrez helps bring newer engineers up to speed, and helps to manage projects.

It’s a rewarding endeavor. She’s working on equipment that gets planes where they’re going and keeps crew and passengers safe. Gutierrez is pleased with the turn her skyward dream has taken.


Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.

Company and location Business area
The Aerospace Corp
(El Segundo, CA)
Space program R&D
(Hanover, MD)
Aviation and defense staffing
Bell Helicopter Textron
(Fort Worth, TX)
Helicopter manufacturer
The Boeing Co
(Chicago, IL)
Aerospace, commercial jetliners and military aircraft
Draper Laboratory
(Cambridge, MA)
DRS Technologies
(Parsippany, NJ)
Military and defense intelligence technologyResearch into alternative energy sources
(Las Vegas, NV)
Technical and logistical testing and evaluation for the U.S. government
(Falls Church, VA)
Engineering and technology; defense and aerospace services
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
(San Diego, CA)
Unmanned aircraft systems and tactical reconnaissance radars
General Dynamics C4 Systems
(Scottsdale, AZ)
Defense contracting and systems integration
General Electric Aviation
(Fairfield, CT)
Jet, marine and aircraft engines; turbofans
ITT Defense Electronics
(White Plains, NY)
Aircraft hydraulic systems
Lockheed Martin Corp
(Bethesda, MD)
Advanced technology for government and military customers
Meggitt Defense Systems
(Irvine, CA)
Scoring systems and services, ammunition handling systems, environmental control systems, aerial pods and countermeasures
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGS)
Military imagery, mapping and charting
Naval Research Laboratory
(Washington, DC)
Research and technological development for the Navy
Northrop Grumman Corp
(Los Angeles, CA)
Defense and technology
Orbital Sciences Corp
(Dulles, VA)
Advanced space systems for civil, military and commercial applications
Parker Aerospace
(Cleveland, OH)
Motion and control technology
Pratt & Whitney
(East Hartford, CT)
Aircraft engines
Raytheon Co
(Waltham, MA)
Systems integration, IT, electronics, missile defense, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
Rockwell Collins
(Cedar Rapids, IA)
Communication and aviation electronics
Rolls-Royce North America
(Chantilly, VA)
Power systems for use on land, at sea and in the air

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