Murphy's Law: This Gig Sucks

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September 8, 2009: One of the less discussed reasons for flawed, over-budget and behind schedule new weapons is that defense industries are no longer considered sexy. Young engineers and scientists would rather work on consumer electronics, or Internet based companies, than design and build new warships, missiles or weapons in general. NASA is having an equally difficult time because space operations are not nearly as attractive as they used to be. Moreover, many of those enthusiastic baby boomer (born between 1946-64) engineers are starting to retire. And there are few people with equal skills to replace them.

There aren't a lot of replacements in general. For one thing, a growing portion of science and engineering graduates in the United States are foreigners, and not eligible (unless they become citizens) for a security clearance (needed for most defense jobs). The native born engineers would rather work for Google, than General Dynamics.

For one thing, the new Internet and consumer electronics companies are a lot less "corporate," and easier to work for. Defense industries prefer people with some military experience, which is much less likely since conscription disappeared in 1972. And all those drug tests are a hassle. The defense industries have a very different corporate culture than companies that popped up in the last two decades, because of new technologies. The defense industries seen as, well, un-cool. Who needs all that crap.

But there's another trend that is hurting defense recruiting. Put simply, new technologies tend to attract a disproportionate amount of the new talent. Over a hundred years ago, railroads were where it was at, and there was much innovation. Then automobiles and trucks came along, and the talent (both engineering and management) moved there. Then came aviation, and trucking became old fashioned. This was also the age of defense growth, with the Cold War and all that. Then came personal computers and the Internet. And the Cold War ended. And nothing was really happening at NASA. Landing on the moon proved to be a hard act to follow. The Space Shuttle didn't really do it.

So now recruiters for defense industries feel ignored and passed by. Nothing personal, just the march of history walking all over you.

 


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