All these considerations point to a substantial need for STEM-related skills and expertise in the development, operations, and sustainment of current Air Force systems and in the fielding and operations of new capabilities. Within the Air Force, STEM-degreed and STEM-cognizant personnel are found in all major commands and work in all Air Force career fields or Air Force specialty codes. This workforce permeates every fiber of the Air Force today. It is therefore essential that the Air Force maintain and enhance its technical competency—a competency provided by the Air Force’s STEM-degreed and STEM-cognizant personnel.
To date, the Air Force has benefitted from having significant numbers of STEM-degreed personnel not only in the 5 officer career fields that require a STEM degree but also in the 21 other career specialties. In many instances, these personnel were attracted to the Air Force because of the technology-intensive nature of its mission. Though not specifically recruited or managed by the Air Force, STEM-degreed personnel have contributed significantly to the overall technical competence of its workforce.
Going forward, uncertainties about an adequate supply of STEM-degreed personnel who are U.S. citizens, together with the growing importance of mission domains that need advanced STEM capabilities, mean that the Air Force must actively manage the recruitment and retention of these valuable resources. As recommended in Chapters 4 and 6, it must establish appropriate recruiting and training requirements, develop competitive hiring practices, and provide viable career paths for all STEM-degreed personnel. The committee has further recommended that the Air Force define a functional level of STEM cognizance short of having a STEM degree (Recommendation 2-2), and that it should seek to recruit, retain, and provide career paths for STEM-cognizant personnel as well as its STEM-degreed workforce (Recommendations 4-1, 6-1a, 6-1b, and 6-2).
As the challenges to the future security environment grow, the Air Force must prepare to address these challenges fully and rapidly. This will require a wider range of technical skills and a technically competent workforce—this requires action by the Air Force now!