Harris CEO says defense industry facing workforce challenges

By Marjorie Censer / December 12, 2017 at 2:44 PM

As the current workforce ages and defense companies prepare for increased spending, they will face challenges in finding enough qualified employees, Bill Brown, Harris' chief executive, warns.

In an interview with Inside Defense last week, Brown said aerospace and defense companies are expecting larger budgets, even if the exact level of spending isn't yet clear.

At the same time, the industry is "facing a shortage of technical talent."

"When you look at growth plus potential retirements over time, it does put pressure on Harris and the broader A&D space," Brown said.

Harris, for its part, has about 17,000 employees today, about 7,700 of whom are engineers. Over the next five years, the company will need to hire about 5,000 engineers, according to Brown.

"The pool of [science, technology, engineering and math] talent is not growing at that same rate," he said.

He said contractors, including Harris, are seeking to reach potential employees at a younger age, looking to programs in grade schools and high schools. The company, which has spent about $22 million over the last decade on science, technology, engineering and math-based programs, sponsors tutoring initiatives and rocketry challenges, among other programs, Brown said.

Additionally, he said Harris is seeking to bolster diversity. About six years ago, according to Brown, about 19 percent of the company's executives were women; that figure is now 32 percent.

"It starts with who we hire and promote in companies like Harris, and it's something that we've paid particular interest to over the last five years," Brown said.