The US aerospace industry forms the core of America’s native military-industrial capacity, and is a potent contributor to American trade balances and economic competitiveness. At the moment, however, the US aerospace industry has thousands of vacancies; and AIA’s statistics show almost 60% of its workforce at age 45 or older in 2007. Other surveys report that between 13%-27% of that workforce will be qualified for retirement by the end of 2008, and several AIA member firms report that within 10 years, fully half of their current workforce will be retirement-eligible.
The news does not improve on the intake end. Overall, just 5% of bachelor’s degrees in the USA are engineering related, compared to 20% in Asia. American institutions award about 70,000 B.Eng degrees per year, including many engineering fields not related to aerospace. That figure rises to about 1/3 of bachelor’s degrees if science degrees are included, but many asian countries are well over 50% if those disciplines are aggregated. Worse, more than 50% of the engineering Ph.Ds awarded in the USA go to foreign nationals, many of whom are not eligible for US security clearances.
That may have something to do with the fact that U.S. 4th-graders score well against international competition in math and science, but fall to the bottom by 12th grade. The US Department of Education also reports an disquieting proportion of U.S. middle school students (grades 7-9, a critical inflection point) taught by educators who had no major or certification in mathematics (68.5%) or science (57.2%).
These trends alarm the American Aerospace Industries Association. Its recent “Launch into Aerospace” initiative offers both an analysis of the current situation and its implications for future competitiveness, and a commitment from AIA member companies to an agenda and a set of corporate actions designed to strengthen America’s future STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) dependent workforce. A companion web site has been set up to help people take the required steps toward aerospace careers. As a next step, AIA is developing a second workforce report that will take a closer look at the issue and offer more details regarding industry commitments and social policy recommendations. AIA release | AIA Sept 2008 report [PDF] | LaunchIntoAerospace.org