Increasing our investment in the innovation workforce

Increasing our investment in the innovation workforce
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With thousands of U.S. technology positions remaining unfilled every day, the need to grow a larger, more inclusive STEM workforce is clear. The challenge? How to proceed.

We can help close the innovation workforce gap if we expand our investments in three key areas — collaboration, inclusion and innovative educational policies — including reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

Collaboration paves the way

During the past decade, government, business and academia have worked together to foster the next generation of engineers and scientists. This collaboration helps to attract, train and retain the talent needed to provide our customers with innovative solutions to address their most complex problems. 

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For example, last year the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) initiated apprenticeship programs for work-based learning, ranging from internships to leadership training. Developed in response to the administration’s executive order on expanding apprenticeships in America, the programs will expand the talent base and provide more affordable pathways to good-paying jobs for current and prospective employees.

The Business Roundtable launched a Workforce Partnership Initiative to tackle current and future skills development challenges and drive economic growth in the United States. CEOs of leading businesses are partnering with local colleges and universities to accelerate and scale best-in-class workforce readiness programs and develop a steady talent pipeline that meets the changing needs of growing industries.

Inclusion fuels innovation

Attracting, developing and retaining a broad and inclusive workforce is paramount to the future success of our industry — and our country. 

According to the Pew Research Center, women and minorities are significantly underrepresented in STEM professions, with women making up only 14 percent of the engineering workforce, African Americans 9 percent and Hispanics 16 percent of STEM professions. And while 50 percent of university students are women, they represent less than 20 percent of the students in engineering programs.

This means a large part of the population is shut out as potential candidates for our field. Inclusion is an important focus area because it not only expands the talent pool, it fosters diverse ideas that lead to the most innovative solutions. 

Investment in innovative educational policies is essential 

Aerospace and defense industry surveys show interest in STEM starts at an early age. More than three-quarters of today’s young A&D professionals become interested in the industry as a result of an event or experience in grade school. 

I believe we must rethink our approach to education. The first step is the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is supported by the Business Roundtable and the Aerospace Industries Association. Congress should not only support its reauthorization but also:

  • Expand Pell grant access to students who participate in certificate programs with a minimum of 150 hours of instruction;
  • Streamline regulations, such as simplifying the application form for students applying for FAFSA;
  • Create incentives for employers and academia to partner to create curriculum that prepares workers for the job market of the future; and
  • Produce more opportunities for students to learn different skills and receive credit and recognition for them – going beyond the traditional two and four-year degree programs.

The need to grow a larger, more inclusive STEM workforce is clear. Increasing investment in collaboration, inclusion and innovative educational policies will help close the workforce gap. This is critical for our nation to remain competitive on the world stage, maintain our national security and increase our quality of life.

Bill Brown is the chairman, president and CEO of Harris Corporation. He chairs the Aerospace Industries Association and is a member of the Business Roundtable.