Watch Shaping the Future of Work: A Town Hall Discussion

Inside the Dreamline Aviation hangar at the Van Nuys Airport, industry experts discussed solutions to the STEM skills gap at WorkingNation's Town Hall Discussion.
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UPDATED: April 13, 2018. WorkingNation has added the “Shaping the Future of Work” Town Hall Discussion to the original story which was published on January 18, 2018.

You can’t see it yet, but the skies above us are in the process of being transformed. America’s air transport industry is undergoing a massive technological update of its planes and air traffic control. NextGen — short for the Next Generation Air Transportation System — is the Federal Aviation Administration-led modernization that is designed to answer the expected 20 percent increase in air traffic over the next decade.

The focus of NextGen is transitioning the ground-based air traffic control system to a GPS-based system by 2020. Going digital, according to the FAA, means less crowded and safer skies. Finding a workforce with the skills necessary to implement this new system is proving to be challenging. Aerospace companies have more than 27,000 unfilled jobs, according to Aviation Week’s 2017 U.S. Workforce Study released in September. Simply put — there’s a STEM labor shortage.

At the WorkingNation and YPO-Los Angeles Chapter Town Hall event “Shaping the Future of Work” in Van Nuys, California, we looked at solutions for closing the gap between the number of workers needed and the number of workers with the needed skills to handle the new technology. The conversation took place in Hangar 4, home base of Dreamline Aviation.

WorkingNation founder and CEO Art Bilger kicked off the evening by sharing our animated short on the impact of automation on the workforce, Slope of the Curve.

WorkingNation founder and CEO Art Bilger delivered opening remarks ahead of the Town Hall. Photo – Jonathan Barenboim

Moderator and PBS NewsHour Weekend Anchor Hari Sreenivasan led the conversation with panelists Michael Kelly, Executive Director, Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy & Jobs; Enrique Cruzalegui, Vice President, Burning Glass Technologies; Aanand Radia, Managing Director, University Ventures; and David Seidel, Deputy Education Director, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Burning Glass — a labor data analytics company — tracks the number of job openings in the country in near-real time. Cruzalegui noted that out of the 27,000 open positions in aerospace, currently there are more than 9,300 openings in the Los Angeles area. One in three aerospace companies reports that the talent shortage will have an “extreme” impact on their ability to grow their business in the coming years. Each unfilled job costs a company $14,000, according to the Aerospace Industry Association.

A lot of the focus was on STEM education in K-12 grades. The panelists all agreed that an important step in ensuring a pipeline of qualified workers was to introduce science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career possibilities to students earlier in their education. LA Coalition’s Kelly’s job is to advise business leaders on how to better engage and fund public-private partnerships that will increase economic growth and better-paying jobs.

He said that often students are just taught the basics but aren’t taught how the STEM skills they have learned can be used in the workforce. He added that not everyone that works in aerospace has a PhD; there are plenty of jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

Seidel is also the Manager of the STEM Elementary & Secondary Education program. Each year, JPL hires about 1,000 interns each year, many of them undergraduates, but some community college students. Seidel said that the students are offered guidance and mentoring at a critical point in their education, showing them the solid aerospace careers available to them.

WorkingNation also premiered The Shift is Now a Do Something Awesome mini-documentary featuring the story of Isaac Gonzalez, who found his calling as an avionics technician and mechanic’s apprentice for RTS Aircraft Services. Through RTS, Gonzalez is responsible for maintaining and repairing the charter private plane fleet for Dreamline Aviation. The video highlights the problem of the labor shortage within the aviation industry and the demand for skilled workers to install the FAA-mandated NextGen GPS systems.

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