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Computer science plays an increasingly significant role in aerospace development. (Credit: Boeing)

The most reliable way to break into the aerospace industry of tomorrow is to learn computer science today. That’s one of the preliminary findings from a study that estimates how many workers will be available to fill future jobs at King County’s aerospace ventures.

The “talent pipeline study” is one of a series of sector-by-sector employment forecasts, drawn up for the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County by Community Attributes, a Seattle-based research firm. The aerospace industry study hasn’t yet been released, but this month Community Attributes shared a draft version of its analysis with stakeholders. The University of Washington’s computer science and engineering department touted the study in a blog posting on Friday.

“What field has the largest total number of current employees in King County’s aerospace industry? Computer science,” the department said.

UW computer science professor Ed Lazowska told GeekWire that the study demonstrates how training in computer science can open doors – not only in Washington state’s world-leading software industry, but in the state’s world-leading aerospace industry as well. He also pointed to an analysis from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that says computer-related occupations are expected to account for 73 percent of all job growth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) between 2014 and 2024.*

“Every field is becoming an information field. Computer science is increasingly central to everything – great preparation for any career,” Lazowska said in an email.

King County’s draft outlook for aerospace jobs suggests that employment will grow from 63,360 to 71,968 between 2013 and 2023, which translates into an average annual increase of 1.3 percent. Computer systems analysts would see the biggest rise in employment, from 11,311 to 15,459. That represents an average annual rise of 3.2 percent on a compounded basis. In comparison, the annual demand is expected to rise only slightly (0.4 percent annually) for industrial engineers, and decline slightly (0.1 percent) for aerospace engineers.

When the demand is matched up with the projected supply of talent being trained in King County, along with expectations for retirements and other comings and goings in the workforce, the draft study estimates that 84 percent of the positions that open up each year for systems analysts might have to be filled by workers coming in from outside the county.

King County’s biggest aerospace employer is the Boeing Co.: Almost half of the company’s 80,000 Washington state employees work at facilities in the County, including an airplane factory in Renton. (Boeing also has a factory in Everett, in neighboring Snohomish County.)

Boeing’s not the only game in town. Other companies are also making their mark on the aerospace frontier, including Blue Origin in Kent; Vulcan Aerospace and Spaceflight in Seattle; and Aerojet Rocketdyne and Planetary Resources in Redmond. Last year, California-based SpaceX opened an office in Redmond to take advantage of the Seattle area’s aerospace talent.

The final version of the talent pipeline study, including further details about the employment outlook, is due for release in March. The Workforce Development Council uses these studies to guide initiatives for employment training in the years ahead. So there may well be more of a push to promote computer science programs focused on aerospace applications – and close the talent gap.

Relating to the figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lazowska says, “All data comes with an asterisk, of course. The asterisk on what I excerpted from BLS is that ‘health care practitioner’ is not considered a STEM occupation – biologist is, but nurse or doctor isn’t.”

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