As aerospace firms grow increasingly concerned about the prospects of a shrinking workforce, Congress is now considering legislation aimed at getting more women into the field.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, one of the bill’s cosponsors, said the bill is focused on getting more teachers comfortable with discussing aerospace. Proponents hope this will get more girls interested in the subject at an early age.
“Frankly, we aren’t going to meet that workforce need unless we start bringing in a more diverse workforce, and that means starting with kids,” Esty said Tuesday.
According to a 2016 report from the Aviation Industries Association, 60.6 percent of the industry’s workforce was 46 or older, including 28.1 percent over the age of 56 and 3 percent over the age of 65.
Nationwide, not as many students today are graduating with degrees in aerospace engineering and other science fields , leaving employers concerned that they won’t be able to replace workers who retire.
Esty, whose district includes Meriden and Cheshire, said the way to reverse this trend is to get students more interested in aerospace engineering earlier because the subject is complicated. Girls in particular need to be targeted.
Studies have found that boys are more interested and excel in math and science at earlier ages, while girls do well in English and language arts.
The proposal, cosponsored by Rep. Steve Knight, R-California and introduced Monday, looks to get teachers more comfortable talking about aerospace.
“Creating a large and diverse pool of talent for our aerospace industry just makes sense,” Knight said in a press release. “When we engage girls at a young age and show them the possibilities of careers in STEM fields, it sparks a lifelong passion for science and discovery.
Esty said studies have found that girls are more drawn to subjects if they perceive that their teachers are interested in and comfortable with the curriculum.
To accomplish this goal, the bill encourages colleges and universities that apply for grants under the Robert Noyce Fellowship program to include aerospace education into their training for aspiring teachers. This includes access to engineering work and opportunities with the National Laboratories and NASA centers.
Additionally, the bill directs NASA to strengthen the promotion of its internship and fellowship programs for women. It builds on legislation that President Donald Trump in February this year that sought to bolster those NASA programs by requiring that the agency’s administration support them.