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Scientists, engineers vital to Air Force mission

WASHINGTON -- The Air Force is having difficulty recruiting and retaining its civilian and military scientist and engineering workforce, Gen. Lester L. Lyles, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, told senators March 31.

If the service wants to retain its position as the world's premier air and space force, it must recruit and retain these scientists and engineers, and provide them with the career guidance and mentorship that will enable the Air Force to meet its 21st century challenges, Lyles said during a Senate Armed Services Committee subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities hearing.

Over the next seven years, the Air Force will invest nearly a third of a billion dollars to support the retention and reshaping of its technological workforce, he said in a written statement.

This investment will fund several initiatives that address both civilian and military recruitment and retention issues.

The Air Force Research Laboratory, which falls under Lyles' command, was the first to take advantage of legislation allowing the Air Force to experiment with alternative personnel management systems for civilian scientists and engineers.

"The result was a simplified classification system, broadband pay levels and contribution-based compensation that gave us the flexibility needed to compete with private industry for critical science and engineering talent and properly compensate our high contributors," the general said.

According to Lyles, the Air Force has also had great difficulty recruiting minority scientists and engineers. To combat this, AFMC implemented a command-wide recruitment program targeting these highly sought-after candidates.

Air Force science and technology representatives attend national career fairs and conferences to promote Air Force opportunities and collect resumes. The collected resumes are given to the appropriate civilian personnel offices and provide a ready-made source of high-quality applicants, he said.

"This targeted recruitment, in conjunction with hiring flexibilities of the Federal Career Intern Program, is enabling the Air Force to make more timely offers to highly sought-after graduates," Lyles explained.

Other civilian initiatives also under way include the recruitment of college students with critical science and engineering skills via recruiting incentives, robust marketing efforts, and a co-op central funding program that hires college students while they are still in school, he said.

Continued support for central funding of recruitment bonus and retention allowances for journeyman-level scientists and engineers also promises to help civilian recruitment and retention, Lyles said.

On the military side, the Air Force is using the Airman Education and Commissioning Program and the Technical Degree Sponsorship Program to recruit additional scientists and engineers into the military workforce.

In addition, the Air Force is examining several possible bonus programs to add to current initiatives, such as the Critical Skills Retention Bonus, which are essential to Air Force efforts to increase the number of military scientists and engineers, he said.

"We remain committed to the scientist and engineer workforce and are confident that with continued funding support, they will lead the discovery, development and timely transition of affordable and transformational technologies that will keep us the best air and space force in the world," Lyles said.

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