Defense Companies Fighting Talent War without Enough Ammunition

If defense and aerospace executives are the generals in the war for talent, they might find themselves with lots of guns but no ammunition.

The aerospace and defense sector is bracing for a potential brain drain over the next decade as a generation of Cold War scientists and engineers hits retirement age and not enough qualified young Americans seek to take their place. The problem could impact national security and even close the door on commercial products that start out as military technology.

The causes of the potential worker shortage are:

  • U.S. universities are not turning out enough math, science, technology and engineering graduates to meet growing demand.
  • There is fierce competition for technical experts from all corners of corporate America, including booming energy and technology industries.
  • Contractors working on classified government programs are hamstrung by government rules that restrict them from hiring foreigners or off shoring work to other countries.

Executives at Northrop Grumman estimate that roughly half of its 122,000 workers will be eligible to retire in the next five to 10 years. The trend is the same at Lockheed Martin Corp., of Bethesda, Md., which could lose up to half of its work force of 140,000 to retirement over the next decade. At Chicago-based Boeing Co., about 15 percent of the company’s engineers are 55 or older and eligible to retire now.

And industrywide, almost 60 percent of the U.S. aerospace work force was age 45 or older in 2007, according to the Aerospace Industries Association.


Ira S Wolfe