|Air Force Battles Shortages of Scientists, Engineers|
Air Force Battles Shortages of Scientists, Engineers
By Staff Sgt. A.J. Bosker, Air Force Print News.
Washington D.C. – (AFPN) November 4, 2002 -- The Air Force continues its fight to remedy a shortage of scientists and engineers, as nearly one third of that workforce becomes retirement eligible in the near future.
The shortages facing the service have been further compounded by competition with industry for people with technical skills, said Lt. Gen. Stephen B. Plummer, principal deputy in the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition at the Pentagon.
"We simply do not have enough scientists and engineers, military or civilian, to meet our requirements," Plummer said. "This is disturbing because we rely on the fact that we are a technologically advanced force.
"If one looks back over the past 15 years at all the conflicts the Air Force has been involved in, we've enjoyed overwhelming success due in large part to the superior technology that we've been able to employ," he said. "That technology was made possible by scientists and engineers. Gen. Henry 'Hap' Arnold told us years ago to 'Remember the seed comes first. If you are to reap a harvest of aeronautical development, you must plant the seed called experimental research.'"
To guarantee access to these technologies on future battlefields, the Air Force is developing several initiatives to ensure it maintains a strong scientist and engineer workforce.
According to the general, the first critical step taken to resolve this problem was appointing the Office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition as the functional manager for all Air Force scientists and engineers.
"That move eliminated one of the biggest hurdles that I saw in managing this workforce," Plummer said. "Before, the workforce was one of a very few number that lacked a functional manager to look after the people in the career field. Now that there is a functional manager, we can focus on developing initiatives to revitalize the workforce."
One of these initiatives has been a retention effort to "re-recruit" engineers. Several senior Air Force engineers recently went out to the field and met with more than 1,500 junior engineers.
"The purpose of this was two-fold," Plummer said. "Senior engineers were able to talk to people face-to-face and explain to them that we know there are issues about the career field that need to be addressed, and we're working those. It also provided us with a great opportunity to get feedback from the field as to what we could do that would make life better for them."
Another initiative that will be available in December is a career development guide for scientists and engineers. In the past, there has not been a guide to help them define career goals, professional development and paths to greater career opportunities throughout their service.
"Not everyone who uses this guide will become the commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, but there are many career objectives and goals that we want to be able to accommodate within the guide," Plummer said. "We owe this to our people."
A mentoring guide will also be made available on the World Wide Web to help young scientists and engineers link up with a proper mentor. It will also help facilitate the mentoring activities that occur between the young scientist or engineer and their mentor.
"We're not trying to usurp any responsibility from the mentor," Plummer said. "By producing this guide, we're just trying to give commanders and supervisors in the field another tool to build a stronger mentoring program."
Other more monetarily focused initiatives will help the Air Force better compete with industry for talented people. These initiatives include retention bonuses for scientists, engineers and program managers, and robust college recruiting.
The Air Force also is active in "co-op" programs, Plummer said.
Co-op programs allow students seeking technical degrees to work either part-time while attending class or alternate between working one term and going to school the next. These programs benefit the students by giving them much-needed experience before they graduate and helps the Air Force bring these newly graduated scientists and engineers onboard.
"Our scientists and engineers need to know that Air Force leaders understand the problems they're facing and are giving their full support to developing solutions to overcome these problems," Plummer said.
It is essential for those in the career field to know that improvements will be gradual, but steady, the general said.
"As we continue to work these on a daily basis, they need to know that it's not going to be a quick fix," he said. "We are embarking on the road to recovery, but it's going to take us a while to get there. We will get there because it's too important not to."