Research Results: Developing Systems Engineers
The Spring 2007 issue of Crosslink Magazine focuses on the state of the US Aerospace industry’s technical workforce – but many of its articles’ topics and conclusions could easily apply to the defense industry as a whole:
“As aerospace systems grow in complexity and interdependence, there is an increasing need for engineering professionals who can successfully plan, develop, manage, and evolve these systems. Yet, the national security space community is facing a growing shortage of senior systems engineers, as the number of systems positions increase and older workers leave the workforce. Organizations commonly lure skilled systems engineers away from each other or try to fill these roles with junior personnel who lack the requisite skills and/or experience, but these efforts fail to address the underlying problem. The question is, how can the national security space community expedite the development of the next generation of senior systems engineers? The type of thinking required by systems professionals is sometimes referred to as “systems thinking…”
A recent study sheds light on what it takes to grow senior systems engineers – and suggests some ways to accelerate that process in today’s engineering population. Key takeaways include…
- Most critical: Training courses aren’t going to be very helpful, though they’re often the first resort. The study showed that this learning needs to be experiential, and built into actual work at various levels.
- Know your workforce development requirements, at least at a broad level. Some organizations need to improve classical systems engineering skills, while others need skills for system-of-systems environments. One organization might need to develop systems engineers who are requirements owners and process engineers, while another might need to enhance the capabilities of systems engineers who are system designers and integrators.
- Incentives need to support systems thinking, and the workforce development requirements selected.
- Feedback and performance systems are critical.
While most of these recommendation fall into the “obvious” category, item #1 is not. It is especially important precisely because it is frequently not understood by Human Resources/training staff, who often have a class training hammer and see every problem skills as a nail. Item #2 is a good reminder, and items #3 & 4 are often poorly executed. The Aerospace Corporation Federally Funded Research Corporation, which is famous for its breadth of engineering and systems development expertise, offers additional thoughts in other articles, and may have more specific recommendations to offer if contacted.
Additional Readings: See Especially…
- Crosslink Magazine (Spring 2007) – The State of the National Security Space Workforce. The aerospace industry is bracing for a potential shortage of skilled engineers and scientists able to work on national security space programs.
- Crosslink Magazine (Spring 2007) – Developing the Next Generation of Systems Engineers. See core recommendations above; contains survey description and data summaries.
- Crosslink Magazine (Spring 2007) – Training the National Security Space Workforce in Systems Architecting. “While this material is not traditionally presented in engineering programs, it is in fact possible to teach – and after years of refinement, Aerospace has developed an effective means of doing so.”