4
Factors Affecting the Aerospace S&E Workforce

A number of workshop presentations and panel discussions at the January workshop concerned factors impacting the demographics of the aerospace S&E workforce. Three presentations summarized workforce studies outside the aerospace sector—military shipbuilding in the United Kingdom, information technology in the United States, and U.S. nuclear reactor programs—that might provide useful lessons for the committee’s examination of NASA’s needs. Other panelists took an integrative view of the workshop discussions and suggested a number of recurring themes that emerged.

SHIPBUILDING AS A MODEL FOR NASA PLANNING

John Birkler, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, discussed several RAND studies of shipbuilding in the United Kingdom that present illuminating parallels for NASA’s workforce planning. The committee was particularly struck by the parallels between the United Kingdom’s shipbuilding experience during the past decade and NASA’s skill retention and believes that it offers valuable lessons for the space agency.

Birkler noted that planning for workforce transitions requires addressing complex issues and that NASA is not the first organization to face such a challenge. Among the challenging problems involved are such questions as how to size and sustain core skills, how to plan over the long term to sustain skills and match demand with supply, and how to plan over the short term to save the expenses of relearning. Ambitious R&D programs are seldom continuous, and demand for core assets varies over time.

Birkler suggested that military shipbuilding could be a useful model for space transport design. Aircraft carriers and submarines are nuclear-powered, they are filled with sophisticated electronics, they require ever greater design efficiencies to fit multiplying missions in a constrained volume, they emphasize safety, and they are expensive. After the end of the Cold War the United Kingdom stopped producing nuclear submarines for a decade. When it resumed production it experienced severe and expensive development problems. RAND was asked to determine the resources needed to sustain design capability, the start date for next design effort, what to do in the interim, and how production should be planned. The roots of the problem were a historical neglect of core skills. RAND found that U.K. defense policymakers did not pay close-enough attention to nor act on long-term needs. Rather, government technical and program management skills atrophied, too much responsibility and risk were shifted to shipbuilders, and the shipbuilding industrial base was treated with a laissez-faire economic attitude.

Birkler noted several options for sustaining a design core workforce over a period during which there is a gap in demand—namely continuous design improvement (spiral development), continuous development of conceptual designs, employment on related projects, or collaboration with other countries or multinational entities. He emphasized that proper planning for the shorter term can lead to substantial savings through careful scheduling that can be invested in preserving core assets. One option for NASA might be to adjust its plans for the exploration vision based not only on budgetary concerns, but also on the need to maintain expertise that might be lost if there are significant gaps between the ending of major development projects and the start of new ones.



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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report 4 Factors Affecting the Aerospace S&E Workforce A number of workshop presentations and panel discussions at the January workshop concerned factors impacting the demographics of the aerospace S&E workforce. Three presentations summarized workforce studies outside the aerospace sector—military shipbuilding in the United Kingdom, information technology in the United States, and U.S. nuclear reactor programs—that might provide useful lessons for the committee’s examination of NASA’s needs. Other panelists took an integrative view of the workshop discussions and suggested a number of recurring themes that emerged. SHIPBUILDING AS A MODEL FOR NASA PLANNING John Birkler, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, discussed several RAND studies of shipbuilding in the United Kingdom that present illuminating parallels for NASA’s workforce planning. The committee was particularly struck by the parallels between the United Kingdom’s shipbuilding experience during the past decade and NASA’s skill retention and believes that it offers valuable lessons for the space agency. Birkler noted that planning for workforce transitions requires addressing complex issues and that NASA is not the first organization to face such a challenge. Among the challenging problems involved are such questions as how to size and sustain core skills, how to plan over the long term to sustain skills and match demand with supply, and how to plan over the short term to save the expenses of relearning. Ambitious R&D programs are seldom continuous, and demand for core assets varies over time. Birkler suggested that military shipbuilding could be a useful model for space transport design. Aircraft carriers and submarines are nuclear-powered, they are filled with sophisticated electronics, they require ever greater design efficiencies to fit multiplying missions in a constrained volume, they emphasize safety, and they are expensive. After the end of the Cold War the United Kingdom stopped producing nuclear submarines for a decade. When it resumed production it experienced severe and expensive development problems. RAND was asked to determine the resources needed to sustain design capability, the start date for next design effort, what to do in the interim, and how production should be planned. The roots of the problem were a historical neglect of core skills. RAND found that U.K. defense policymakers did not pay close-enough attention to nor act on long-term needs. Rather, government technical and program management skills atrophied, too much responsibility and risk were shifted to shipbuilders, and the shipbuilding industrial base was treated with a laissez-faire economic attitude. Birkler noted several options for sustaining a design core workforce over a period during which there is a gap in demand—namely continuous design improvement (spiral development), continuous development of conceptual designs, employment on related projects, or collaboration with other countries or multinational entities. He emphasized that proper planning for the shorter term can lead to substantial savings through careful scheduling that can be invested in preserving core assets. One option for NASA might be to adjust its plans for the exploration vision based not only on budgetary concerns, but also on the need to maintain expertise that might be lost if there are significant gaps between the ending of major development projects and the start of new ones.

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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report Birkler offered several lessons learned from the studies for the U.K. Ministry of Defense. First, managing workforce transitions requires (1) careful analysis of the time series of demand for labor, down to the skill level, (2) identification and characterization of core capabilities, and (3) long-term planning for the maintenance of those capabilities. Second, ignoring the complexities runs the risk of unnecessary expenditures for relearning, program demands for labor exceeding the supply, and loss of core capabilities. INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AS A PARALLEL FOR NASA PLANNING Burt Barnow, Associate Director for Research at the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies, drew several lessons from the work of the NRC Committee on Workforce Needs in Information Technology, which issued a report in 2001.1 The demand for information technology (IT) workers was growing rapidly in the 1990s, leading to controversy over whether the United States could meet industry needs. Some members of the IT community argued that there was an IT workforce problem, including claims that not enough graduates were being produced by U.S. colleges and universities in computer-related fields and that secondary school and postsecondary students in the United States were poorly prepared in math and science, compared with students in other countries. But other observations suggested that there was not a problem—that, for example, older IT workers might be available who had been previously discriminated against in terms of hiring, compensation, promotion, and access to retraining opportunities and that workers in IT come from a broad range of disciplines and backgrounds, not only math and science, so that the actual pool of workers might be considerably larger than the industry describes. The NRC committee found that: The IT labor market is complex and dynamic: occupations change content, and the needs of industry change rapidly; Government labor market data often do not tell us enough about the current labor market; There are a number of important dimensions to the IT labor market; Mechanisms by which workers acquire skills and employers accept them are not that clear; learning on the job is best; and In the IT workforce are many workers who do not have IT degrees. Barnow offered several lessons applicable to the current study of workforce capacity to implement the vision for space exploration, including the following: Circumstances can change rapidly; the IT bubble burst less than 2 years after completion of the NRC’s IT workforce study. The time period to be analyzed and the occupations of interest need to be defined as precisely as possible; assessments that look forward a shorter period into the future provide more accuracy. Competitors for the workers of interest are an important consideration. Different attributes of government, private, and international sectors are also important. To the extent that projections must be used, the track record of past projections should be examined, especially to see if there were systematic errors. 1   National Research Council, Building a Workforce for the Information Economy, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001.

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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report NUCLEAR REACTOR PROGRAM AS A PARALLEL FOR NASA PLANNING Gerald Kulcinski, Associate Dean for Research for the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, drew a comparison between the U.S. nuclear reactor program and NASA’s program. Among the parallels, he noted that both peaked 30 to 40 years ago, both are currently experiencing a modest to significant revival, both look for international collaboration, both are experiencing “competition” from abroad, and both look to significant S&E human resource expansions for success. Furthermore, NASA will need a healthy nuclear engineering community as exploration moves to Mars and beyond, and nuclear systems have played an important role in NASA’s robotic interplanetary exploration program. Kulcinski said that an effect of re-licensing commercial nuclear reactors, which is now beginning to occur, will be to require a larger technical human resource base. Consequently, there are now estimates of growing gaps between nuclear engineering needs in the fission nuclear power industry and the number of graduating B.S. and M.S. students. However, university undergraduate enrollment has recovered since 2000 to early 1990 levels. Kulcinski noted that increased Department of Energy funding of nuclear engineering (along with diminishing opposition from mainstream environmental groups) has been a major factor in the rise in undergraduate enrollment. A PERSPECTIVE FROM U.S. UNIVERSITIES Jack Burns, a professor of astronomy in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, discussed five factors that will affect the extent to which U.S. universities will be able to meet their obligation to provide the necessary training for the aerospace S&E workforce. First, U.S. state-supported public universities are being increasingly stressed as state governments debate whether the universities serve primarily a public or a private good. State support is dwindling dramatically, a decline that is leading to a lack of flexibility, which increasingly hampers the universities’ ability to respond to changing priorities and levels of national support for areas such as space research. University administrators are no longer willing to commit faculty positions and other resources to unstable programs. Second, there is a need to re-evaluate the role of research universities in the increasingly global environment. Burns called for strengthening university curricula in social sciences and humanities (e.g., languages, history and culture, religious studies, political science), contributing to diversifying the workforce (including recruiting and training more women and persons of color in S&E disciplines). He also cited the need to stimulate both interdisciplinary research at the cutting edge at the interfaces between disciplines and multidisciplinary education (e.g., business, law, IT) so that students will receive more than narrow training in just science or engineering. Third, he noted that the expansion in biotechnology and the effects of doubling of the National Institutes of Health budget are having an impact on the physical sciences, including NASA programs. NASA’s flat or declining sciences budget could result in entire subfields going away. Fourth, Burns noted that student recruitment is a complex topic. By way of example he cited the University of Colorado undergraduate astronomy program. The program now has an enrollment of 150 undergraduate astronomy majors, which is a particularly robust program. Fifty percent of those students are on a teacher education track. Thus students do pay attention to job prospects and local market forces; half of the astronomy students see a major in astronomy as an attractive way to pursue a career in education rather than in a more technical application of their training. Finally, Burns called attention to the impact of implementation of export controls and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). This issue continues to grow for universities as more foreign students seek opportunities to work on spacecraft experiments and as U.S. investigators seek to pursue collaborations with European researchers. Some universities have given up resisting the

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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report government on these issues and have elected to bar non-citizens from participation in their space research activities on campus. Complying with ITAR requirements is an even bigger issue for university scientists’ industry collaborators. INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVES At the committee’s February 22 meeting, committee member John W. Douglass, President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), briefed the committee on the views of a sampling of AIA members on the workforce issue. Douglass said that for the short term, NASA has the human capital necessary to implement the exploration vision, but that AIA is concerned about the agency’s systems engineering and program management experience. In addition, many NASA engineers do not have program start-up experience, and any delays in the Crew Exploration Vehicle program will likely increase attrition. In the longer-term, NASA will probably have a shortage of experienced engineers. Douglass said that there is a danger that the agency cannot compensate NASA engineers sufficiently to compete with industry. Industry also has the human capital to implement the exploration vision in the short term, but in some key technology areas the skill sets are only “one or two people deep.” Douglass also stressed that the longer-term outlook is good as long as the exploration vision remains stable and federal funding continues. Douglass said that the skills necessary for research, development, technology, and engineering are “not necessarily similar” to those required for operational needs. In addition, insufficient lead times for contractors and subcontractors do not allow the appropriate skill sets to be in place. Canceled jobs lead to attrition to other non-aerospace industry projects. He added that ITAR hampers U.S. companies possessing a multinational workforce and that the agency should resolve discrepancies between State Department and NASA interpretation of ITAR. In addition, Douglass recommended that NASA should look at industry practices as a model to train and transfer skilled workers to meet current priorities, develop a mentoring program utilizing the current and retired knowledge base, develop a program management and systems engineering and integration training program, create a transition plan by mapping needed skill sets, and look at ways to supplement its workforce from outside sources. Ray Haynes, Director for University Alliances and Development of the Office of the Chief Engineer at Northrop Grumman Space Technology, spoke to the committee on February 23, presenting his company’s view of the challenges of engineering development in a rapidly changing global environment. Haynes stated that the aerospace industry as a whole faces a shortage of engineers. Citing AIA figures, he stated that February 2004 represented a 50-year low in aerospace employment. It is now increasing, but the talent pipeline is insufficient. Currently 9 percent of funded positions are going unfilled, and a significant fraction of the current workforce will be eligible for retirement by 2008. According to Haynes, university research is a key factor for future success, because corporate research and development laboratories have downsized and government laboratories are focused on Department of Defense (DOD) research. Education collaboration between industry, universities, and government is required for success, and U.S. government investment support is critical. Haynes submitted that engineering education and university research should focus on basic and emerging engineering needs. For example, because nanotechnology is emerging as a new field, it offers an opportunity for the United States to retain its lead in high technology, but it will require massive investment in new technology now. Steve Oswald, vice president and program manager of the space shuttle program for Boeing, briefed the committee on February 23. Oswald explained that there were a number of important “success factors” for the transition from shuttle operations to crew exploration vehicle (CEV) development. He said that an important factor will be the ability to share the skilled people between the Space Shuttle program and the Crew Exploration Vehicle and Crew Launch Vehicle programs. He said that how NASA contracts for products and services can make the transition easier, or more difficult. He said that one way that Boeing was looking to do this was to bring back recent retirees to work on the space shuttle while

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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report moving some of the shuttle workforce to new projects. He stated that NASA’s decision to base the future CEV and a heavy lift launch vehicle on existing shuttle components significantly eased the problems of transitioning the workforce. Without that decision, the company would have to lay off employees much sooner. Boeing is also working on developing a space shuttle mentor-protégé program. The company has developed an “intellectual capital planning tool” that was instituted in Houston in January 2006 and will soon be used in other Boeing facilities in Florida; Huntsville, Alabama; and Huntington Beach/Palmdale, California. RECURRING THEMES The final session of the January workshop was devoted to a synthesis of the major themes and issues that emerged from the meeting. In opening the discussion, Roy Torbert, a professor of physics in the Institute of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire, commented that there was not yet a clear sense of the problem. He suggested that the central problem might be NASA’s need for engineers and managers who have experience on real projects. If that is the case, then it implies a significant need for training the in-house workforce. Don Giddens, Dean of the College of Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, noted that NASA faces a dilemma. On the one hand, the agency seeks to shift its workforce to more in-house design and systems integration and to build the skills needed in the next 10 years to support human exploration. However, NASA has very limited hiring opportunities due to budget constraints, excess capacity in the current workforce, and a desire to use layoffs only as a last resort. Consequently, with too many of the wrong people and limited ability to hire the right people, NASA will be hard-pressed to attract students if the message is that there are no jobs. Looking outside NASA, Giddens observed that workforce issues are particularly complex. The data on whether there are too many, too few, or the right number of S&E graduates are unclear; the roles and needs of large companies, small companies, and universities are distinct; industry globalization, recruiting from the minority workforce pool, and requirements to hire U.S. citizens in some sectors all have impacts. These issues led Giddens to suggest that there are several important tasks for NASA, including the following: Getting definitive data on near-term and long-term workforce skill needs as a function of time (e.g., in the manner described by Birkler for the RAND study of U.K. shipbuilding); Addressing the current mismatch between NASA workforce skills and projected needs; Retraining the current workforce and using targeted recruitment (e.g., via co-ops); Initiating staff reductions; Looking beyond 2011 to assess which skills will be obtained through evolutionary change and which (if any) will require revolutionary efforts; Attracting experienced, mid-career S&E workers from the private sector in the “right” skill sets (e.g., in systems engineering and project management); Revisiting in-house versus contractor roles (especially because industry has more flexibility to hire and change its workforce makeup); and Considering more or different NASA efforts to affect the supply side of the workforce. Looking at the broader national picture, Giddens offered three thoughts. First, too much centralization in national workforce planning is probably counter-productive and should be avoided. Second, a strength of U.S. higher education is its diversity in terms of its capacity to create opportunities for minority students and to offer exposure to a wide range of disciplines; that should be nurtured. Third, a strength of U.S. industry has been the (federal and private) investment in R&D; a decline in this investment poses a threat to innovation in the United States.

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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report T.K. Mattingly, a former Apollo and shuttle astronaut and aerospace executive, suggested that launch vehicles and spacecraft are now mature technologies. NASA’s human spaceflight programs have recently concentrated on operation of the shuttle and assembly of the International Space Station, rather than the development of new vehicles and systems. The skills needed for operations are not the same as those needed to accomplish development of the systems needed to implement the vision for space exploration. To get those necessary skills will require people with experience, and this may require a concentrated effort to prepare systems engineers and project managers. To succeed in the environment of cost constraints, the future design teams will need people who have experience managing cost and schedule as well as technical work. Mattingly, and others, also argued that recruiting people to implement the exploration vision will require convincing them that the work is interesting, important, and challenging. Success will require passionate people who will be able to believe that the exploration vision will be sustained. During the concluding plenary discussion, participants raised a number of points to amplify or expand on the workshop panelists’ comments. Key points included the following: NASA’s attention to workforce issues seems primarily internally focused, but a more outward-looking approach is desirable that accepts that industry and academia are integral parts of the workforce. A solution to NASA’s near-term problems will not come via training students because that is too long a process. Instead, exchanges with industry and academia are more promising for the near term. There will be a need for more organizational transparency to promote the flow of workers between NASA, industry, and academia. Workforce pull will be more important than push; jobs will have to be made attractive to appeal to workers. KEY FACTORS The committee has drawn on the presentations summarized above, and the attendant discussions by participants at the workshop, to distill a set of factors that will influence the demographics of the future aerospace S&E workforce. They are enumerated below. Perception Potential employees need to be convinced that the vision for space exploration is an exciting effort, that it is sustainable, that they can play an important role, that they can receive training or experiences that will help in future jobs, and that their potential co-workers and managers are committed. Furthermore, potential employees will need to be convinced that the state of all of the above will be better than that for non-vision-for-space-exploration aerospace positions and not worse than that for other, non-aerospace jobs. Stability A key question is whether the overall size of the effort will be sufficiently large to maintain constant staffing, or whether there will be “seasonal workers.” If cycles of high and low demand are anticipated, potential employees will want to know how those cycles are accounted for. It will also be important to know whether there are reachable and significant milestones that can serve as jumping-off points for both employees and employers. A related factor is not simply how the project is perceived by

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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report potential employees, but also how it may be perceived by the institutions that provide the employees, such as university engineering and science departments and university-based institutions. Students’ career paths are shaped by their advisors, and if the advisors perceive NASA to be a bad career choice, this will affect their students’ decisions. As one workshop participant noted, if prospective employees believe that they lack assurance that the space exploration vision is stable enough for them to build a substantial portion of their career working for it, then the situation is unstable. Availability Key vacancies need to be open for competition (thereby creating an environment that encourages and facilitates the movement of NASA employees into industry for developmental work experience assignments, the movement of industry employees into NASA where they can mentor NASA employees, and the subsequent return of these employees to their original institutions). NASA and industry need to be properly matching applicants and vacancies, providing reasonable assurance of upward mobility and quality training, and properly identifying internal solutions to vacancies. Recruitment Recruitment will be influenced by whether NASA and industry can properly identify required skills in advance. Whether the workforce has reliable feeder programs and whether feeder programs can help respond to identified needs will have an impact. Paying the appropriate level of attention, expanding the diversity of the workforce, and recruiting from underrepresented populations will be especially important. Furthermore, the extent to which the industry is attracting elite workers will have a feedback effect on recruitment. Retention and Engagement Key factors include the ability to pay competitive salaries, maintain employees’ sense of usefulness, prepare employees for future contributions in addition to current contributions, listen to inputs from employees, provide mentors and training, including hands-on experience development opportunities, and explicitly facilitate the transfer of know-how from senior to younger employees. International Involvement Although constraints imposed by ITAR may lead to a higher demand for U.S. citizens and permanent residents in NASA’s workforce than might be the case in other employment sectors, international participation in space exploration will still have a significant impact. For example, the workforce for NASA will be influenced by what skills, jobs, and salaries are being provided by foreign partners and how completely those are integrated with domestic equivalents.