It is time we in the aerospace industry stop competing among ourselves and start working together to develop solutions to the work-force crisis that we always read and hear about. The issue of work-force readiness is not new and there are certainly many opinions on what it takes to help our youth become capable citizens of the future. Whether measured by the rate of change in standardized test scores or the percentage of students who choose to pursue educational tracts in science and technology, many are and should be concerned.


It is well known that in the last 30 years, the global economy and the availability of instant information on the Internet have reduced the value of simply knowing things and raised the importance of being able to create value – a concept that requires knowledge, creativity, critical thinking and relationships in the marketplace. It is because of that transformation and the demographics of the baby boomers that nearly every entity – industry, government, professional organizations and societies – has embarked on a plan to help transform the
educational system. But their focus has been on schools, where students only spend 17 to 20 percent of their time, and not on the overall system that includes ways youth are educated outside of the classroom. In addition, few have been able to recognize that nearly every sector and industry faces the exact same challenges. Unfortunately, most think that fixing schools is the solution.


Education, however, does not happen just in the classroom. There are opportunities at home, on the sports field, on the job, in the library, in the museum, as well as in the classroom. And it happens in many ways through reading, lectures and presentations, solving problems, writing, hands-on activities, and observing others and the world around us.


Further, all of the activities are impacted by the educators, government and civic organizations, business, the media, health industry, parents and the multitude of professional and philanthropic organizations. In short, education results from the interaction among many players and constituents. It is a complex system. We all see it and are a part of it, yet we tend to act like our project or program is the solution to the problems we continue to see and face. It is time for a new approach – one we know well.


Thirty years ago, it took 3 million people 10 years to develop the solution that sent three men to the Moon and back. Everyone on this team had the same intent – man on the Moon. But without a vision, integrated architecture and plan based on common values, language, motivations and expectations, the results might have been different. We see it everyday in our industry. Systems we create succeed or fail based on alignment of values, vision, language, resources and the ability to manage across boundaries. We have a similar, but far more complex challenge for education to align the actions of millions to develop capable, skilled citizens for the future.


While those of us in aerospace may not be experts in education, we do know how to align millions. It is time for us to think as members of our stakeholder groups. Our challenge is not about fixing education with our own company actions or organizational projects. Our challenge is to use the large scale system integration skills that we have in a way that will enable communities to work together. This is not developing and marketing our unique projects, or even touting the value our project brings to the school or entity with which we work. None have the scale and impact necessary to transform millions of young people.


We must act differently. We must stop focusing on our individual projects and think as one by becoming the system integrators we know how to be. Like most large scale system actions, we can apply key steps.


  • Identify and attract the key stakeholders.
  • Agree on a common language and set of shared values.
  • Agree on a shared vision and measures of success.
  • Establish a plan, including the stakeholder roles and responsibilities and the relationships or interfaces between stakeholders.
  • Agree on the resources and source of those resources to achieve the shared vision.
  • Establish and implement a management process.


In our business, the language we use is a bit different but the outcome is the same. In Step 1 we tend to use terms like “customer” and “supplier.” Steps 2 and 3 are about the contract terms, system specification, program schedule and performance metrics. Most people outside our industry have no idea what our terms mean, so having a common language and plan is the only way we can begin to start a common process.


Not only must we act differently, we must think differently about our own individual projects and programs. We must stop the process of developing new projects each time someone has a new idea. We must stop multiple projects that have the same purpose and intended outcome. We must stop operating as individual organizations trying to influence the outcome.


Instead, I believe we need to focus our attention at the level where real alignment and seamless integration can occur. Certainly there are national and state policies and resources that can, should and will impact the overall educational system. Further, a national and/or state-based online resource to share information with others can be a key resource to help the alignment process. But the real work – the alignment around values, the integration of activities and measurement of results – will occur at the local level.


We live in a free market economy where competition drives creativity and innovation. Continued success necessitates having a work force that:


  • Defines problems
  • Assimilates relevant data
  • Conceptualizes information and reorganizes it
  • Makes inductive and deductive leaps with it
  • Asks hard questions
  • Discusses findings with colleagues
  • Works collaboratively to find solutions
  • Convinces others of their position on problem solutions.


In short, success is more than providing information. Success is about delivering value to the customer in an integrated way.


The same is true for developing our future work force. It must be about delivering value to our communities, states and the nation in an integrated way. We need to stop competing against ourselves with our own organizations and our own projects. We need to align and integrate so that we have an educational system that we all can draw from to meet our respective customers’ needs. It is time for those us in aerospace to stop our independent activities and focus on what we can do best for the education system – help it get aligned and integrated.


Rick Stephens is senior vice president for human resources and administration at The Boeing Co.