Even as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base adds missions and units, a sizeable slice of its working population is approaching retirement age.
Considering all base units, 41 percent of the base’s civilian workforce will be eligible to retire within five years, said Jessica Salyers, director of special programs and projects at Air Force Research Lab, part of a team overseeing 6,400 skilled science and engineering employees working with a $5 billion annual budget.
But like other Dayton-area leaders, Salyers doesn’t see this as a crisis. She sees it instead as an opportunity.
“We’re confident this can be addressed,” Salyers said. “That’s why we want to have this dialogue.”
A forum today at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force will explore the issue. The event’s goal: Help college leaders better understand Wright-Patterson’s missions and career opportunities.
About half of those who work at Wright-Patterson are within “the autumn and winter of their careers,” Col. Tom Sherman, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing, said during a defense conference in Columbus last year. That amounts to 15,000 of the base’s 30,000 employees.
“This is an important conversation for everyone to have,” Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said in an recent interview.
It almost doesn’t matter what statistic you use, Husted said. If Wright Patterson is simultaneously adding jobs while a slice of experienced workers approach retirement, that creates a big number of openings.
“You just have to treat that like it’s both an emergency and an incredible opportunity,” Husted said. “Imagine if we said that over the next five to 10 years, we’re going to have a business that’s moving to the Dayton area that’s going to need 20,000 employees.”
Wright-Patterson is undeniably the area’s economic engine, Ohio’s largest single-site employer with a $16 billion economic impact on the 14-county region surrounding Dayton.
At AFRL alone, around 36 percent of employees are already eligible to retire, Salyers said last year. That number remains accurate, she said recently.
The base needs more than scientists and engineers. Air Force leaders are looking for an array of secondary skills, too.
“We’re looking for really well-rounded people who can come in and do many different things,” Salyers said.
Elaine Bryant, Dayton Development Coalition executive vice president for aerospace and defense, said the base is open to qualified people who have experience but are also open to launching new careers mid-stream.
“The biggest takeaway is that we will have a community dialogue so the base, our universities across the state, will continue to grow the workforce in a collaborative fashion so that we can produce right here in Ohio the students that we need to join workforce on the base,” Bryant said.
Air Force Materiel Command Commander Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., and Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Commander Lt. Gen. Robert McMurry will speak at the forum about staffing needs, and civilian employees with discuss the benefits of working for the Air Force, said the coalition, which organized the event.
“That’s one of my top priorities…Our workforce is critical,” Bunch said in October 2019. “I get the privilege of working for 80,000-plus airmen across Air Force Materiel Command, and I work for them. They are the key to us being successful and there’s a lot we need to do in those areas.”
After last year’s forum in Columbus, Husted suggested local leaders team with colleges to address problem. This forum is a response to that call.
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