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He Hopes to Turn Flight of Fancy Into Reality

Sales rep rekindles dream of working in aerospace. But first he needs to tackle some science homework.


As a boy, Chris Rae dreamed of becoming a scientist. But life, bills, marriage and children intervened. Now 51, Rae, who's spent 30 years as a sales rep, wants to finally act upon his childhood ambition.

"I've been thinking about science for years now," said Rae, who sells industrial packaging. "I've done quite well in sales, but I'm tired of the constant grind. Now I want to do something I love."

But how? Rae finished only three years of college, and, at present, doesn't want to spend more time in school completing graduate studies. He'd like to find employment in the aerospace industry, but isn't interested in becoming an engineer.

Rae has a tough road ahead, say industry experts. Without an advanced science degree or engineering training, his chances of securing a well-paying aerospace job are extremely limited. He might end up doing sales work similar to what he's doing now--with only a change of clientele.

For help, Rae contacted Susan Miller, a career counselor in Los Angeles. Rae told Miller that, despite his most diligent efforts, he hasn't been able to launch an aerospace career. He had contacted the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena about administrative positions, but says he was told he'd need a bachelor's degree "just to knock on their door."

He also submitted resumes to aerospace and defense firms, but didn't receive any encouraging responses.

After reviewing Rae's resume and interviewing Rae at length, Miller advised the Walnut resident that he'd greatly bolster his chances of making the transition into aerospace if he undertook some preparatory educational studies and training.

She explained that aerospace firms will assess him in three areas: his content knowledge of their field (which currently is low); his functional skills--such as selling, negotiating and project management--which can be readily applied to their business; and his positive affect, or ability to fit into their workplace culture.

Miller suggested that Rae not only complete his bachelor of science degree, but also consider pursuing professional certification in a specialty such as purchasing management or engineering, which would be of value to aerospace employers.

Rae would need at least a year of schooling to complete his bachelor's degree, plus additional time for a specialty certificate.

Industry experts also suggested that Rae not limit his job search to local aerospace concerns. During the last decade, California has lost more than 300,000 aerospace and defense jobs due to corporate consolidations and military spending cuts.

Here are some additional tips for Rae to help him plan his career transition:

First, Rae should realize that nontechnical positions at aerospace firms, which manufacture aircraft systems, missiles, spacecraft, space launch vehicles and related equipment, are extremely limited.

For example, out of 136 current job openings at Northrop Grumman's Southern California sites, only four--including two secretarial spots--don't require technical expertise, said Bob Bishop, a company spokesman.

And even many of these rare nontechnical aerospace spots, particularly those that are executive-level and project management-oriented, may be difficult for Rae to land.

Aerospace firms tend to promote their top-level managers from within, and favor engineers to oversee their ongoing projects, explained Ed Jordan, a 25-year aerospace industry veteran and the expert guide at

Rae may want to look into information management jobs within the industry, which are on the rise as aerospace firms continue to transfer their prodigious documentation to computerized files and databases, Jordan said.

However, such "soft technical" positions at larger firms--open to workers who are computer literate and comfortable with aerospace lingo--have been steadily emigrating out of California as a result of the industry's continued spate of mergers and acquisitions, Jordan said.

But there are other possibilities for Rae. His extensive sales and marketing background may prove attractive to select aerospace employers. Occasionally, sales and marketing positions at these firms require only strong selling and people management skills.

In March, for example, Raytheon, the nation's third-largest aerospace and defense firm, advertised for a marketing manager at its Long Beach location. The position required no technical experience.

However, not all aerospace concerns have such openings. Firms such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin (the nation's largest military aerospace employer), whose principal client is the federal government, do little or no sales and marketing to the private sector.

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