Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) informs that it has hosted a STEM Workforce Call-to-Collaboration conference to help increase the quality of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and the quantity of STEM-educated graduates for the future workforce.
The two-day conference featured insight from HII President and CEO Mike Petters, Newport News Shipbuilding President Matt Mulherin and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who provided a keynote address via video.
Sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association and the Aerospace Industries Association, the quarterly Call-to-Collaboration meetings aim to foster regional and statewide communication between education stakeholders and STEM employers such as HII. The goal of the conference is to explore ways of partnering with elementary, secondary and post-secondary education to produce the 21st century STEM workforce.
Petters spoke on business growth, the economic engine and workforce development, putting emphasis on the early stages of the education pipeline. "Invest in the value stream early; you'll get a return," he said. "Play the long game in education. Start early in the pipeline, in preschool education and early childhood education. We need to get folks interested in engineering in fifth, sixth and seventh grade, yet if they're not reading by the time they're in third grade, we won't get to them."
Later in the conference, Warner delivered a videotaped address focused on supporting STEM at both the state and federal education levels. Warner stressed that STEM education goes beyond just an undergraduate degree. "STEM means more than just four-year college degrees in what we traditionally know as science, technology, engineering and math fields," he said. "We've got to realize that STEM includes folks coming out of apprenticeship programs. It means community college education, and it does mean undergraduate and graduate level programs."
Ed Swallow, chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association's STEM workforce division, emphasized STEM's importance in future generations' education systems. "STEM is critically important to the aerospace and defense industry at large because you have a huge problem coming up with retiring baby boomers," Swallow said.
He continued: "If you look, 31 percent of the current aerospace and defense workforce is eligible for retirement right now, and that's expected to grow to over 40 percent in the next 10 to 15 years. So we've got to be reaching out to kids in the K-to-5 range right now because that's going to be the workforce of the future. We need a more diverse workforce, and that's why we're looking at places where there are strong NDIA chapters and strong aero and defense clusters so we can get industry, academia, government, K to 12 organizations and parents together in meetings like this so we can get a dialog going about how to partner across the entire spectrum of stakeholders."