Flight Path

Rule #1 is Show Up


AIAA represents the aerospace industry’s workforce, today and tomorrow. We live in a new “golden age” of aerospace, where autonomy, AI, and electric propulsion are about to transform many sectors of our industries. This transformation will further intensify an already fierce competition for talent, as the types of skills most in demand will be sought not only by the aerospace and defense industry, but also other very vibrant parts of the economy, particularly the automotive and technology sectors. This is a huge challenge, and AIAA will be a crucial part of our industry’s efforts to meet it.

If you are a young engineer looking to advance in the profession, you already know that a professional society is a way to develop your skills, get to know your colleagues, and figure out who is really making things happen. In our family we have a saying that in the basic rules of success, rule #1 is “show up.” But often that is not so easy.

As a young engineer in my first job at one of the large aerospace primes, I remember how difficult it was to get approval to attend an AIAA conference. First, you had to join AIAA. Somebody had to pay for that. Second, somebody had to pay for my time to prepare the paper after it was accepted. Third, somebody had to pay the conference fee. Fourth, the time away from the office to attend the conference had to be approved. Finally, there were the not-insignificant travel costs. It was all too much, and I only attended one or two conferences in my early years out of school. The only good thing about the gauntlet I had to run to attend an AIAA conference was that I got to meet the senior leadership of the company, who had to approve attendance and wanted a report afterward.

I suspect my experience is not unusual. AIAA has strong participation from students, but we see unsettling attrition among the “Young Professionals.” Even at the company I now run, it’s not all that clear what our policies are regarding participating in a career development event such as an AIAA forum. I also suspect other organizations face the same issue, and that it may get to be a bigger problem as the size of the organization gets bigger. Yet I am 100% convinced that if we are to increase participation in our events, we need to attack this problem as a community. Making it easier for young professionals to engage in our activities must be a top priority for AIAA.

I am passionate about ensuring we have a strong voice for student members and young professionals and want to hear about your experiences, thoughts, and ideas. What does your own organization do to promote or hinder participation in professional events? What are the “best practices” that you see as an enabler for success at the forums? How can AIAA evolve to make this easier, and what changes should we press our corporate members for? These are all important decisions that cannot be made in a vacuum and needs the leaders of our future to engage and be inspired.

I want to hear from you personally, so take a minute to reach out to me at jslangford@aiaa.org. Together, we’re going to change things for the better. ★

Rule #1 is Show Up