Awarded Funding: Continuation of Helix: Workforce Evolution


Helix-logoThe System Engineering Research Center (SERC) would like to congratulate the “Helix: Workforce Evolution” research team for the newly awarded funding for their future research. It is a continuation of “Helix – Developing Effective Systems Engineers” Project under Human Capital Development. The effort is anticipated to be 12 months in duration.

Background: An improved engineering capability is a recognized Department of Defense (DoD) science and technology priority and the SERC is well positioned to make advances against this priority through research in systems engineering. The SERC and its sponsors have developed a research agenda around four areas. One area in particular, systems engineering (SE) human capital, is especially relevant to this research task. The goal of the SERC’s human capital research strategy is to reduce the professional development time of highly capable systems engineers and technical leaders, both within the DoD and in the defense industrial base and to improve the effectiveness of those systems engineers and technical leaders.

There is significant interest in the DoD, as well as in Congress, in ensuring that the DoD can characterize and manage its SE workforce. To do this, it is critical to have a baseline understanding of that workforce to determine the impact of SERC and other DoD human capital efforts. For instance, the SERC’s “Experience Accelerator” research task seeks to decrease the time that it takes to develop a fully competent systems engineer. It is commonly said that it takes approximately 15 years to develop a systems engineer. However, before Helix there were no substantial, empirical studies to validate this claim, nor systematic insight into why it might be true; claims were instead based on anecdotal experiences of individuals. The community’s basis for selecting, promoting, and developing systems engineers has been largely ad hoc. SERC’s “Technical Leadership” research task focuses on developing technical leadership skills, which have been shown in Helix to be a critical proficiency area for systems engineers.

Helix has been building a theory to enable a current understanding of the SE workforce which will allow the DoD to determine how the workforce can better support the acquisition of defense systems in future and to identify the specific impact of efforts to improve the SE workforce, such as recruiting and retention programs. This information will also inform the SERC on how to thoughtfully adjust its own human capital research program. From 2012-2016, Helix interviewed nearly 300 individuals from 20 organizations to develop Atlas 1.0: The Theory of Effective Systems Engineers. This theory defines what makes systems engineers effective, identifies critical proficiencies, and provides a baseline understanding of the current state of the workforce based on the sample.

In 2017, this research task aims to put this workforce development understanding in context and answer three related research questions:

  • What are organizations, that employ these systems engineers, doing to increase their effectiveness, and how well are those efforts working?
  • How does the effectiveness of the systems engineering workforce impact the overall systems engineering capability of an organization?
  • What critical factors, in addition to workforce effectiveness, are required to enable systems engineering capability?

The Helix Project (Helix) is a multi-year Workforce Evolution Project that began on Sept. 26, 2012 and has continued through four additional awarded tasks. Here is the link to the entire project.

For more information,  you can reach out to Dr. Nicole Hutchison, Principal Investigator, Stevens Institute of Technology.


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