Reston, VA – The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) hosted a half-day panel discussion, “Preparing for the Next Generation Aerospace Workforce,” on January 11 at its Aerospace Sciences Meeting in Reno, Nevada.

Dr. Paul Nielsen, CEO of the Software Engineering Institute and president-elect of AIAA, moderated the panel, whose members included Dr. Lisa Porter, the Associate Administrator for Aeronautics Research Directorate at NASA; Dr. Robert Walters, chair of Virginia Tech’s Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering; Dr. Annalisa Weigel, assistant professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; George Muellner, president of Advanced Systems for Integrated Defense Systems at The Boeing Company; and David Newill, senior executive of marketing and strategy at the Rolls-Royce Corporation.

Issues examined included the dynamism and complexities presented by the increasingly globalized pool of students and workers; teacher preparation; the impact of U.S. export controls; the quality of engineering school graduates; and how best to motivate students at both the K-12 and college levels to pursue engineering as a career.

“Academia, industry and government have to understand the culture of the ‘millennial generation’ that will supply our students and new hires in aerospace for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Weigel.  “They are motivated by problems that have a very strong connection to society, such as the environment, energy issues, health care and medicine, poverty, etc.  We are talking to a very different group of young people now.”

Muellner suggested that although currently there is generally no shortage of American workers qualified to work in the aerospace field, “Indications exist that as older members of the workforce retire, we need to work harder at preparing their successors through mentoring and increased job experience.”

Preparing the future aerospace workforce will involve a complex mix of effectively communicating to students and their parents the opportunities available; adequately preparing teachers; maintaining the right financial and regulatory environment; and drawing on the strengths inherent in the nation’s uniquely diverse workforce. Concrete action at both the micro- and macro-levels of academia, industry and government will be required to ensure that the national aerospace industry prospers.

“I don’t think that we need to adapt our educational strategies to the short attention span of today’s students,” stated Dr. Porter. “Rather, I think that we need to teach them discipline and perseverance. We need to coach them not to expect instant gratification, but to recover from failure and keep going – a quality shared by productive aerospace engineers.”

Dr. Nielsen concluded, “The panelists provided outstanding insights to the many layers of this issue, from student attitudes to the importance of role models. Consensus emerged that, to maintain and even expand its lead in the field of aeronautics, the U.S. must excel at creativity and innovation.”

AIAA will continue to focus on next-generation workforce issues through its AIAA Excellence in Aerospace Discourse Series and other fora.

AIAA advances the state of aerospace science, engineering, and technological leadership. Headquartered in suburban Washington, D.C., the Institute serves over 35,000 members in 65 regional sections and 79 countries. AIAA membership is drawn from all levels of industry, academia, private research organizations, and government. For more information, visit

Sharon Grace
Corporate Communications
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)
1801 Alexander Bell Drive, Suite 500
Reston, VA 20191