Diverse Talent, Fresh Perspectives Essential In The New Era Of Aerospace
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Diverse Talent, Fresh Perspectives Essential In The New Era Of Aerospace

Christopher Deel, Vice President, Engineering and Advanced Programs, United Launch Alliance
Christopher Deel, Vice President, Engineering and Advanced Programs, United Launch Alliance

Christopher Deel, Vice President, Engineering and Advanced Programs, United Launch Alliance

This is arguably the most exciting time in the aerospace industry since the Saturn program. We at United Launch Alliance are launching our Vulcan Centaur rocket this year and we’re also proud to be part of NASA’s Artemis lunar program. Throughout the industry, national security space is driving new technologies and the evolving global threat environment calls for new space missions which require complex upper stage capabilities. The James Webb Telescope promises groundbreaking discoveries to further educate humanity about the universe and our place in it. Corporations are developing habitats to replace the International Space Station, and we’ll likely see the beginning of a sustained cislunar economy and human presence outside of planet Earth within our lifetimes.

The opportunities that await us in the aerospace industry are vast and exciting, but we’ll need the curiosity and determination of new emerging leaders to push the American aerospace industry into this new era. The most significant challenge to accomplishing these goals and maximizing on these opportunities may be the availability of engineering talent.

In our industry, the “Great Resignation” is really the “Great Opportunity” for engineers. There is much more demand for talent than there is supply, and competition for that talent is fierce. Right now, key players in the aerospace industry are trading talent between each other as startups look to grow. The demand for talent is also driving us to refine our employee development strategy and other processes. I expect this to continue in the short term. In the longer term, if the rate of investment and new product development continues, the industry is going to need a significant influx in talent.

The obvious place to start looking for new engineering talent is underrepresented groups. While we have seen an increase in women engineers in the last 20 years, women still comprise only about 15 percent of engineering graduates. The percentage of underrepresented groups has remained relatively constant, but they remain significantly underrepresented overall in our industry. When I speak at universities, the faces looking back at me are more of the same.

Aerospace industry leaders must start feeding the pipeline with more diverse talent and develop professionals who will shape the future of our industry.

  In our industry, the ‘Great Resignation’ is really the ‘Great Opportunity’ for engineers. There is much more demand for talent than there is supply, and competition for that talent is fierce 

At ULA, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are a key part of our core values. Our numerous employee resource groups focus on DE&I, each sponsored by a member of the Senior Leadership Team, and ultimately ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno personally leads our DE&I program. These groups work closely together to create a work culture where every individual can be themselves and contribute all of their talent to the team.

We have been very successful increasing the number of women on our team and currently outperform the industry average with nearly 20 percent female engineers. We have prioritized diversity in our internship program and have ongoing partnerships with organizations like the Brooke Owens Fellowship and the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship to offer opportunities to young women and African-American students in STEM disciplines. Our focus on diverse recruiting for our internship program pays dividends when students return to school and talk about the hands-on work opportunities and practical skills they’ve gained while working with ULA. We are also seeing the benefits of the increasing numbers of women in our leadership team. Nearly half of our engineering senior and executive leadership positions have been earned by very talented female leaders in recent years, and influential female leaders drive products and lead teams across the whole enterprise. While we still need more women in the talent pool, at ULA women can see themselves reflected in key leadership roles and have access to mentors who can show them the way.

While we are making progress with creating a more inclusive work environment, we need to make significant progress as an industry to create a more diverse talent pipeline into STEM jobs. At ULA we are investing our time to inspire the next generation of STEM students. Among other initiatives, we partner with elementary schools and the Boys and Girls Club to organize hands-on and educational small rocket launches. Each summer our interns and ULA volunteers host a series of small rocket launches which include payloads developed by a wide range of students from across the nation.

This is an exciting time to be in space launch. Career opportunities are plentiful and the industry is growing from significant public and private investment. Career opportunities for the next several years will require an influx of new talent. For anyone in other defense or STEM industries who have dreamed of working in space launch, now is a great time to make a move. The future is bright for the next generation as well, whether students are motivated by the challenge of harnessing a few million pounds of thrust, supporting national defense, exploring the universe, better understanding climate change, or creating a permanent human presence off the planet. There is something to excite students of all backgrounds to take on a STEM education and help engineer the future of humanity. As industry leaders, we must develop the next generation of aerospace professionals and inspire them to reach as far as their imaginations will take them and in many cases even farther.

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