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Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

Young Aerospace Workers Moving Up

Young Aerospace Workers Moving Up By SLAV KANDYBA Staff Reporter At 27, Northrop Grumman Navigation Systems technical staffer Benjamin Davies often has the responsibility of telling co-workers some of whom in their 50s or 60s could be his grandparents what to do. “It’s intimidating,” said Davies, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley in electrical engineering. “It is challenging when your task is to manage people who have been with the program 30 years.” Nevertheless, Davies is able to cope, and one of the ways he does that is by trying to be more of a “facilitator” rather than a dictator. “You have to see yourself as a person who is facilitating,” he said. Davies is not the sole younger employee overseeing older workers. In the Valley aerospace industry, there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of aerospace workers at companies such as Boeing’s Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power and Northrop Grumman who are under 40 and carving themselves a niche within an industry dominated by baby boomers on the verge of retirement. They are stepping up to fill the shoes of the older workers as the industry sees a resurgence in business thanks to increased military spending. At Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, some of the older engineers have worked on the Apollo program and built space shuttle rocket engines. As they get ready to leave, new talent is getting harder to find because it is in such demand, company officials said. But younger employees who are there such as Anne Kotake, 39, an aerospace engineer at Rocketdyne, say they are able to get along well with the older workers. “There’s no (age) discrimination,” Kotake said. “For the most part, everybody is treated equally you can speak up and you’ll be listened to.” Kotake, whose responsibilities at Rocketdyne include supporting the testing of the Delta IV rocket’s main engine, has worked for the company seven years. Prior to joining Rocketdyne, she worked for a Honeywell-affiliated firm in the South Bay. She was a mechanical engineering major at Cal State Long Beach and graduated in 1989. From her vantage point, Kotake said there’s “definitely a gap between the population that is retiring and the new engineers that’s based on supply-and-demand of jobs. We haven’t really had any big hiring waves over the last five years.” Younger co-workers She said she did not see significant hiring increases since joining the company, and as result she said to expect “another gap soon.” At the same time, however, she added many co-workers “in the younger age bracket” were working on the rocket engine program with her. Alex Fax, a Boston native who works in research and development for Northrop Grumman, also said there were no problems between older and younger workers as the younger ones handled more responsibility. “It’s a company that values people who are creative thinkers you can do that at any age,” said Fax, who has been with the company since 2001 and previously worked for Lockheed Martin in New Jersey. Fax, 34, went to Princeton University and right away got a job at Lockheed. “When I finished my degree I wanted to work on exciting technology,” he said. Fax ventured west to attend Caltech, where he earned a doctorate in engineering and wrote an aerospace-related thesis that eventually resulted in a job with Northrop Grumman. But while Fax was focused on an aerospace-related career, that wasn’t the case for his Northrop Grumman counterpart Davies. Davies, who grew up in the Valley, first interned at Northrop in Woodland Hills between his sophomore and junior year at UC Berkeley in 1997. He was less than excited about an aerospace career back then. “That wasn’t necessarily where I saw myself, having (gone) to school in the Bay area during the dot-com craze,” he said. Taking the job Davies, however, ended up accepting an offer from Northrop for a full-time job, although “the whole time I was thinking I was moving out of this industry. In retrospect it was a good decision.” Davies’ role at the company now includes being a lead on a development program for military computers. He’s also involved in leadership development programs and was recipient of several awards for his work. The company is paying for his work on a master’s degree in engineering management through a distance learning program at Cal State Northridge, and he hopes to advance within the ranks. “I think they (advance you) based on whether they feel you have potential and can solve problems and take on responsibilities,” he said. And although things are apparently going well for Davies, he pointed out an important issue affecting aerospace workers: the high cost of living in Southern California. “The company has asked me about relocation, but I said I want to hold on to my house here because I’m afraid I’d have a hard time buying back into this market,” he said. “If I was just starting now, I would be more tempted to move out of the area.”

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