Bunch: STEM Graduate Rates Bear Watching, Industry Concerned About Workforce

Air Force Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, acknowledged an increasing demand for workers with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics backgrounds. Air Force photo by Sarah Corrice.

The Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition officer said there’s a “big demand signal” right now for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers in the aerospace industry, noting he’s aware that industry is worried about getting enough workers to fulfill their programs and he’s watching the situation carefully.

Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, meeting with reporters at the Pentagon Thursday, noted that part of his job is to be the chair of the Air Force’s Stem Advisory Council, and the rates of production for STEM college graduates are an issue “in the forefront of my brain.” In talks with industry, he said they’ve voiced concerns about finding enough STEM specialists.

It’s no wonder, Bunch said. “Looking at all the modernization we’ve got, looking at all the changes we’re doing, and what we’re trying to do with agile software development, … cybersecurity, … launch service agreements, high end things, the move in the National Defense Strategy to take risk in the lower end [programs] and go for the higher end,” adds up to a very competitive labor market “across the board.”

Bunch made the comment as a partial response to a question on whether the highly classified B-21 program is able to progress on schedule as it moves toward what Bunch described as “the next big milestone” in 2019. He wouldn’t say what that milestone is, but noted that “we’ve had the first big software drop” on the project and USAF is “progressing” toward a second. “We’re doing well,” he said.

“We’re executing to the plan that we laid out and the schedule we laid out for the EMD program,” Bunch asserted. Beyond the 2019 milestone, the one beyond that is “a little ways out,” and his office is regularly updating Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Secretary Heather Wilson.

The Air Force continues to scrutinize what it can and can’t release about the program, and is trying to decide how it can be as transparent as possible about it, Bunch reported. For now, it can’t say anything more, he said.

Lockheed Martin Skunkworks officials last week reported challenges in hiring all the people the advanced development unit needs to work on a burgeoning raft of classified programs. Skunkworks is located at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., adjacent to the Northrop Grumman facility where much of the B-21 is expected to be built.