Give me irony, or give me dearth

Although the mass exodus of Baby Boomers retiring from our workforce has been temporarily slowed by their still-recovering investment portfolios, the wave of retiring workers and forthcoming dearth of experienced engineering veterans will be landing as sure as the Space Shuttle Atlantis' final touchdown. And as we all prematurely mourn the loss of these professionals and the expanse of knowledge they'll take with them, there's still time to do something about it - to capture that knowledge before it walks out the door. But the problem still remains: Who will fill those shoes? Who does that knowledge get passed on to?

Despite the relatively high unemployment rate, many highly qualified positions still go unfilled. And in the maintenance field, it’s risen to crisis levels, as fewer young people are interested in pursuing a career path that entails the monitoring and maintenance of critical plant assets.

Perhaps it’s the misconception. Perhaps it’s the glamourless uniform and name badge. Perhaps it’s the lack of bona fide role models. But one thing is clear: We need more qualified individuals with advanced science-, technical-, and engineering-related skill sets to fill these jobs.

Call it luck. Call it irony. Call it serendipity. But there’s an entire corps of highly qualified workers now available, thanks to the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. When Atlantis landed, it grounded the entire space-exploration program and ultimately will leave 9,000 workers adrift in the vacuum of deep space (that’s a metaphor for unemployed, in case you didn’t get it). Those 9,000 workers have some pretty good experience with building and maintaining fairly high-level technological wonders, too.

When Patrick Henry rallied his fellow statesmen to join America’s revolutionary endeavors at the Virginia Convention in 1775, he declared he desired either liberty of death. That was an important beginning to a new chapter in U.S. history. It was, in fact, part of the first chapter actually.

The next chapter for the U.S. space program looks a little hazy at this point. For now at least, U.S. astronauts will pay for a ride aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to go to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

President Obama wants NASA to reach an asteroid by 2025 and to get to Mars by 2035, but, without a space program, no one is quite sure how that will happen. As NASA workers prep the Space Shuttle for its retirement and permanent display in the Kennedy Space Center, let’s consider their futures. And let’s see the opportunity for what it is. If you have highly skilled technical positions that need to be filled, I think there are some individuals currently residing on Florida’s Space Coast who might be just what you’re looking for. And they’ve probably just updated their resumes.

On its final mission, Atlantis delivered 9,400 lb of equipment to the ISS, but it also brought back 5,700 lb of materials.

What has the Space Shuttle brought back for you?