Why is Lockheed Martin scrambling to hire more young engineers?

Amy Hughes clearly remembers the moment she decided she wanted to work for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

About five years ago, during her junior year at Arlington High School, Hughes and other prospective college engineering students watched a Lockheed Martin recruitment video. It was a high-energy video that appealed to the students’ patriotism, with F-35s thundering across the screen.

The message of the recruitment film: Come work with us, and build the machines that defend America from its enemies.

“As soon as the video was over, I looked at my dad and said, ‘I want to do that,’ ” Hughes said. “I applied the next day. I just loved it. I thought, ‘I can make a difference.’ ”

But not all young engineers are attracted to working at a place that requires its applicants to be U.S. citizens, pass a security clearance and work in a mile-long structure with few windows — adjacent to a west Fort Worth military base.

Lockheed Martin aims to hire an additional 1,000 people for engineering and other high-tech jobs during the next year at both its F-35 stealth fighter production plant in Fort Worth as well as its missile and fire control facility in Grand Prairie, company officials said.

At a time when many critics say the Dallas-Fort Worth region doesn’t have enough of a skilled work force to lure the best paying jobs — and that shortage may be a key reason why Amazon didn’t select North Texas as a spot for one of its new headquarters — Lockheed Martin officials acknowledge that they face a challenge in filling those high-tech positions.

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BF-1 flight #330, piloted by Lt. Col. C.R. Clift, and BF-5 flight #89, piloted by Capt. Michael Kingen, perform STOVL operations aboard the USS WASP DT-II. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics

But they also say they are finding a good amount of success in recruiting workers such as Hughes, who will be one of the first four people to graduate Lockheed Martin’s Project Lead The Way program when she graduates from Texas A&M University in May.

Project Lead The Way identifies students with good prospects in fields such as engineering while they are in high school. Those students are then offered summer internships beginning while they are still in high school, and continuing each year while they are in college.

Then, upon graduation, they are offered full-time jobs.

“We have been very successful recruiting current college students to either join us for internships or entry-level positions,” said J.D. McFarlan, Lockheed Martin vice president of F-35 test and verification. “We certainly have a brand and reputation that is well-known on campuses. We’re seen as a company you can have very successful career at. I think recruiting entry-level professionals has not been difficult for us. A lot of the things we do before folks ever get to college, and that probably helps.”

The company’s hiring will be for a variety of positions in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Hughes, for example, will be working full-time in the combat avionics system, which focuses on the electronics aboard the stealth fighter jets. Her degree is in computer engineering, with a business minor.

While she was still in high school, Hughes worked as an intern in Lockheed Martin’s materials processing lab. After high school graduation, but before her freshman year of college, she moved to the company’s wind tunnel testing area. Each summer, she gained experience in a different area of the company.

During each summer internship, Hughes said her co-workers went out of their way to help her.

“Everyone there is so willing to teach you,” she said. “Any question you ask, they will take you where you need to go to learn the answer.”

Not all of the job openings are for new graduates.

Some jobs require years of experience in related fields, and many of those jobs could be filled at the company’s hiring fairs, which typically draw hundreds and sometimes several thousand applicants.

Lockheed Martin stages recruiting events nearly every day somewhere in the United States. Often, the events are held at colleges.

For example, a recruiting even will be held 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the University of Texas at Dallas Career Center in Richardson. (The event is for UT-Dallas students only.)

Lockheed Martin has 16,400 employees at the aeronautics plant in Fort Worth, and another 3,500 workers at the Missiles and Fire Control plant in Grand Prairie. Of those, about 10,000 workers are in high-tech fields such as engineering, company officials said.

Specific information on salaries paid at Lockheed Martin was not available through official channels. However, on Glassdoor, a crowd-sourced website, the annual salary for a research engineer at the company ranged from $79,000 to $115,000. Another listing showed the salary for an electronics engineer at $59,000 to $84,000.

The need for additional high-tech workers could be exacerbated by the retirement of long-time employees, some of whom have been told in recent years that the company is no longer contributing to their pensions.

But Nicole Green, Lockheed Martin director of talent acquisition, says the issue of retirements is less of a concern than the need for the company to grow its workforce as it ramps up to full capacity on programs such as the F-35 production.

“I would say most of the hiring we’re doing right now is really driven by strategy and growth, rather than a strategy to get out in front of any pending retirements. The attrition has been really steady,” she said. “We made a decision we really wanted to increase the amount of interns and college students. The idea is to bring them in now, so that in five or 10 years we have folks who understand their roles.”

Working at Lockheed Martin is still considered a plum job at places such as the University of North Texas College of Engineering in Denton.

“There is no shortage of students who want to talk to Lockheed, and others,” said Thomas Derryberry, UNT assistant dean of corporate relations.

Derryberry said that when Lockheed Martin has an engineering opening, ”The line will be 50-deep.”

But he also agreed that working for a defense contractor isn’t for everybody.

UNT has 4,071 engineering students and 35 percent are first generation college students, he said. Also, 46 percent of undergraduates students are under-represented minorities, and many of those students seek employment with smaller, more civilian-oriented firms.

“For some students, the smaller companies out there offer a stronger sense of community,” Derryberry said. “And they get to see the fruits of their work output much sooner.”

Antonio Araujo, a senior mechanical engineering student at the University of Texas at Arlington, agrees. Araujo expects to graduate in May, and he has his eye on a job with a comparatively small bio-medical firm in the Fort Worth area.

“My preference is getting to see a lot of things,” Araujo said. “With a smaller company, you can do that, and have your hands in different areas.”

But Araujo also says that Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth is just as desirable as it has ever been in terms of pay, comfortable workplace and ability to achieve long-term career goals. He says the company is “super-involved with UTA,” and has a presence at nearly every campus career event.

“I have several friends who work at Lockheed,” he said. “They’re really smart people.”

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.