This summer, an ice cream truck rolled up to the edge of Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Redondo Beach, Calif., Space Park campus. It offered free frosty treats — from Raytheon Co. recruiters.
That's just one hiring strategy employed by aerospace and defense companies these days. Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. have Facebook or Twitter accounts tailored specifically for recruiting.
The increased U.S. defense budget, record orders for commercial aircraft and the launch of cutting-edge programs have aerospace and defense companies scrambling to hire engineers and other skilled workers. They're especially interested in those with experience in software, artificial intelligence and autonomy — pitting them against tech companies for the same pool of workers.
Historically, aerospace and defense firms "haven't had the Googles and Amazons and Yahoos to recruit against," said Harold Carter, director of engineering and technology at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale.
Next year, the aerospace and defense industry will probably hire 58,000 to 60,000 people across the country in a mix of new jobs and to account for attrition and retirements, said Carole Rickard Hedden, editorial director of Aviation Week Executive Intelligence, which produces a yearly report on the industry workforce. About one-third of those hires will be on the West Coast.
That's up from about 50,000 hires industrywide last year, said Frank Slazer, vice president for space systems and workforce at the Aerospace Industries Assn. trade group.
Many companies are looking to staff up after recent program wins, including the stealthy B-21 bomber, NASA's low-boom supersonic X-plane and hypersonic missile research.
Roy Azevedo, Raytheon's president of space and airborne systems, expects the hiring boom to continue for years.
"It rivals what we saw in the 1980s," he said. "The openings are roughly doubled from just about a year ago."
As of last month, Raytheon had about 1,000 job openings in California, including 600 in the South Bay. Lockheed Martin's careers page listed about 880 open positions last month in California, a "significant increase from anything in the past," Carter said.
To attract young talent, aerospace firms are a constant presence on college campuses. Last fall, Mia Reyes, 20, met Northrop Grumman recruiters through a résumé workshop at a UCLA Society of Women Engineers event and took a tour of one of the company's local facilities through her involvement with the Society of Latino Engineers and Scientists.
Those meetings led to an internship this past summer at Northrop Grumman, where the third-year aerospace engineering student worked on stress analysis of aircraft structures. She'll be interning there again next summer.
A major draw was Northrop Grumman's work on the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that is set for launch in 2021.
"That telescope is the coolest thing in the world to me," Reyes said.