Lockheed hopes new $30M scholarship program spurs 'K-to-Career' STEM path

Government contractors across the board -- hardware and services -- were among the biggest beneficiaries of the sweeping corporate tax reduction signed into law in December of last year.

Lockheed Martin was among those companies faced with decisions of what to do with that windfall arising out of a statutory rate cut to 21 percent from 35 percent.

So what has the world’s largest government contractor done so far? With an eye to the future, Lockheed doubled the size of its emerging technology-focused venture fund and has ramped up involvement in education initiatives geared toward careers in STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

As Lockheed’s STEM program manager points out, many of those jobs of the future are not even in industries traditionally thought of as under that STEM umbrella. Lockheed’s efforts, those of its GovCon peers and really those of all technology companies are aimed at growing what is currently a scarce pie of skilled technologists.

That talent dearth “is a problem across the board” and solving it is “critical to our nation and our continued economic advantage,” Lockheed’s Jennifer Mandel said.

For Lockheed’s part, the company announced Thursday it taking another piece of that tax cut and putting it toward a $30 million scholarship program for high school and college students, including those from underrepresented or underserved communities.

And the directive on potentially taking that avenue came directly from the C-suite including Lockheed’s chief executive Marillyn Hewson, Mandel told me.

“The highest levels of the organizations came together and said ‘where do we want to invest these savings?,” Mandel said. “The scholarship program and investing in our current workforce with upskilling and reskilling programs, and looking for nontraditional workforce with apprenticeship programs. That is what rose to the top of how we as a company were going to invest back those savings.”

Lockheed sees its new scholarship program helping envision what Mandel characterized as a “K-to-career” path to first get young children interested in technology. This can even involve using items like Legos that resemble certain skills, she said.

“Then the focus really needs to increase. Eighth grade is often seen as the tipping point for students who decide if upper-level math and science courses are what trips them up,” Mandel said.

But inevitably some of those decide that is instead what they want to continue on. High school seniors and college students pursuing engineering and computer science programs in particular are the target age range for the new scholarship initiative.

Where Lockheed wants to particularly help is in school districts where many advanced STEM courses either are not offered or under-resourced. That fact shrinks the talent pool, Mandel said, and it comes on top of the much-talked about challenge in getting talent with security clearances.

“We as an industry just have to keep partnering with every stakeholder out there,” Mandel said. “We as a company really have a duty to attack the problem at all levels and that’s why we focus our efforts on ‘K-to-Career.”

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also connect with him on LinkedIn.

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