US Congress Attempts to Boost Future Aerospace Workforce
DID has covered the Aerospace Industries Association’s recent report showing the US aerospace industry’s global trade surplus, and testimony re: defense procurement improvvements. AIA also notes that the average American aerospace employee is in his or her 50s, far older than the levels that prevail in other high-technology sectors. Fully 27% of aerospace workers will become eligible for retirement by 2008.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed an AIA-supported bill to create a federal inter-agency task force on aerospace workforce revitalization, which charges 11 executive branch agencies, including NASA and the Defense and Homeland Security departments, to identify new aerospace workforce opportunities through a variety of scholarship, training, and recruitment programs in partnership with the private sector and state governments.
Reps. Vern Ehlers [R-MI] and Ellen Tauscher [D-CA] introduced H.R. 758 earlier this year, and it cleared the House by a unanimous vote.
DID offers its readers links to the bill’s text, as well as and related debates and proceedings. As is true for most successful political bills, H.R. 758 represented different things to different constituencies, and attempted to grapple with several issues at once.
Rep. Ehlers [R-MI] noted that:
As the aerospace industry supports over 11 million American jobs and generates 15 percent of our gross domestic product, the strength and vitality of this sector of our economy is absolutely vital… If we are to remain competitive in this field, we must, and I agree with both the gentleman from Michigan and from Texas, we must produce highly trained workers that can compete with workers overseas.
Additionally, this legislation also mandates a coordinated effort to improve science and math education in the United States. Providing a strong education in math and science is absolutely vital and would not only aid the aerospace industry, but also will go a long way to ensuring a prosperous future for our country.
I am proud to support this legislation. I am also proud of the fact that Boeing Industries is in my congressional district.
Rep. Tauscher [D-CA] noted:
“Over the last 15 years, the aerospace industry has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs, many of them in my home state of California. Many of these losses are cyclical and linked to the ebb and flow of defense spending. Many of them, however, are due to self-inflicted injuries such as a lack of clear federal policy and direction and badly outdated export control systems that make no distinction between cutting-edge and readily available technology.”
In a recent report to the President, the bipartisan Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry recommended the establishment of multi-agency strategy panel to counter “the nation’s apathy toward developing a technologically trained workforce.” The Commission warned that this apathy could lead to “intellectual and industrial disarmament” and pose a “direct threat to our nation’s capability to continue as a world leader.”
Rep. Tom Udall [D-NM] made points along those lines, then added:
I support H.R. 758 because developing a strong education base is vital to our aerospace industry. However, it is not a panacea. We must also look to reinvigorate our investment in aerospace research and development. If we continue to cut funding in these areas we will continue to lose expertise and experience in our current workforce, as well as our ability to compete globally. It is for this reason that I introduced the Aeronautics Research and Development Revitalization Act (H.R. 2358). This bill passed the House of Representatives as part of the NASA Authorization bill, H.R. 3070. The bill establishes an aeronautics research and development policy at NASA that will expand capacity, ensure safety, and increase the efficiency of the nation’s air transportation system.
Education is a key component of strengthening the aerospace industry, but unless we also invest in R&D the number of aerospace jobs available will inevitably decline. I am hopeful that this taskforce will recognize the true value of these investments and will suggest a strategy that provides both short term and long term support for aerospace in this country.”