The Outlook on the Next-Generation Aerospace Workforce is Bright
By Dan Dumbacher|November 2021
One of the most rewarding aspects of being involved with AIAA is meeting early and mid-career professionals and students. They are the future innovators and leaders of our industry. I have had the opportunity lately to meet with some of these young people in person. I am inspired by them, as well as challenged to ensure we are doing all we can across AIAA to embrace their ideas and energy. We are building the most technically, professionally, and culturally diverse space workforce pipeline on the planet.
We see AIAA members move through their career journey from aspiration to inspiration. Along the way, students are navigating the climb. As they become young professionals, we see them building the future. These phases on their journey give AIAA the opportunity to support them in the most meaningful ways.
Recently I had the chance to spend the day with an alumnus of the AIAA Diversity Scholars Program. What I heard from this young man – who is now working for a major employer in the aerospace industry – is how impactful the program was to him. He began building his professional network through his experience as an AIAA Diversity Scholar, which he continues to build during these early years of his career. He expressed a desire to pay it forward by serving as a mentor to a new AIAA high school member. The energy I felt from him – around learning from and sharing with others – feels electric. It is a special factor that I believe will make a difference in his career, and those like him.
We are looking forward to getting to know even more young people when we welcome the next class of AIAA Diversity Scholars to 2021 ASCEND in November and to 2022 AIAA SciTech Forum in January 2022.
AIAA also has announced a collaboration with the Aerospace Special Interest Group of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE Aerospace SIG) to increase diversity and inclusion in engineering and aerospace. We share a deep commitment with the NSBE Aerospace SIG to increase active participation by Black professionals in the engineering profession specifically, and the aerospace industry more broadly. This agreement is an important step in our daily efforts to increase the diversity of the aerospace workforce. There is a natural local connection for members of both groups to align on university campuses and in cities across the United States. AIAA members can find the NSBE chapter near them and take advantage of discounts on membership dues with NSBE, and access member rates for NSBE events.
I recently had the great pleasure of meeting with several members of NSBE, along with members of the AIAA University of Minnesota Student Branch and the AIAA Twin Cities Section. Again, I witnessed energy and enthusiasm to discover common interests between the groups and plan activities together for the future. I anticipate this model of local member gatherings, whether virtual or in person, will continue based on our new agreement.
Another AIAA initiative is with AstroAccess, a mission dedicated to advancing disability inclusion in space exploration, where we are providing technical expertise and guidance. AstroAccess selected and flew a crew of 12 ambassadors on a parabolic flight with the Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G) in October. I have been following their mission with interest as they advance disability inclusion in space exploration for the benefit of humankind. AIAA is honored to help AstroAccess remove barriers to space as part of these disabled crew members’ experience in microgravity – their mission photos showed faces filled with pure joy.
Through these different relationships, I’m reminded that our future aerospace workforce will be diverse. We all know that it will include diversity of race, gender, age, and other demographic factors. It will also include diversity of thought and diversity of physical abilities, inviting systems thinkers and those with interdisciplinary training and education all to be full contributors. Especially when thinking of our off-world future, aerospace workers will need several abilities and skills that will serve them well on Earth too. The history of our industry shows that diversity leads to innovation. Innovation will accelerate the future. Our young AIAA members are showing us how bright that future is – shaping the future of aerospace together.
The AIAA Diversity Scholars Program seeks to provide opportunities for underrepresented university students who have an interest in or are pursuing a degree in aerospace to attend an AIAA forum or event. During their immersive event experience, Diversity Scholars learn about professional opportunities available to them in industry; meet with thought leaders from government, business, and academia; and take full advantage of the expansive technical program as guests of AIAA.