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IEEE-USA President's Column


Russell Lefevre, Ph.D.
2008 IEEE-USA President

More on the Silver Tsunami

In my last President's Column, "Silver Tsunami Set to Hit U.S. Aerospace and Defense Work Force," I talked about the significant demand for engineers set to strike the U.S. aerospace and defense (A&D) work force.

The issue was addressed at the INSIDE Aerospace Conference on 13-14 May in Arlington, Va., and here's a summary of its recommendations:

  • Engage future generations in K-12 education. This recommends that the A&D industry be in contact with young people who may become future employees at the earliest possible time. One strong suggestion is that the focus should be on "hands-on" classroom activities. Another element is to develop outreach programs to address small, rural and blue-collar communities. I, myself, come from a very small town in northeast North Dakota and came into the A&D sector almost by accident. I had no understanding of the field when I graduated and only learned of the opportunities after leaving the U.S. Army when I was located near a major city.
  • Rebuild the nation's image of aerospace contributions to society. Under this were listed 15 bullet points where aerospace engineering has affected our lives, including communications such as the Internet, weather prediction, GPS and many others. The report noted that, "U.S. industry spends $400M annually promoting the various aspects of 'engineering image,' but does not effectively address what young people are looking for: that is, creating state-of-the-art advances, making a difference in a positive societal way, working with teams of capable people, and associating with seasoned, personable mentors besides the usual job concerns of salary, stability, family life, and working conditions."
  • Engage all those contributing to career decisions. Make contact with those who impact decision-making: parents, teachers, student advisers, career guidance counselors, etc.
  • Focus on diversity. This recommendation is extremely important. The IEEE and IEEE-USA have a major focus on bringing into the profession women, Hispanics, African-Americans and members of other minority groups. Sadly, minority enrollment and graduation percentages have been flat for years and new ideas have to be generated.
  • Emphasize hands-on programs from the beginning. This recommendation is to give prospective engineers a better feel for the profession than what is obtained strictly from the mathematics and engineering science curriculum. The idea is to give students laboratory courses, design activities, etc. early in their college careers so they can better understand what engineers do in the industry.
  • Tailor course offerings and delivery systems to today's market of interest. This recommendation is self explanatory.
  • Partner with interested stakeholders to gain breadth and relevance. Partnerships among professional engineering associations, colleges and industry, federal, state and local government agencies and secondary school systems can be a significant factor in enhancing the development of a suitable aerospace work work force. To this end, the IEEE has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with The Boeing Co. that will make it easier for Boeing employees to join the IEEE, and bring additional benefits to both organizations.

The report is very thorough and has many insightful observations, as well as recommended actions. I can make the INSIDE Aerospace report and the Aviation Week survey available to any member who wants it. Send an e-mail to

Please send comments to

Updated:  29 September 2011
Contact: Chris McManes,


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