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Aim Hire: Quantum Leaps

The February episode of Aim Hire welcomes two STEM professionals whose careers have advanced by impressive leaps and bounds with the Air Force Civilian Service (AFCS).

We introduce you to Shandra Bates, plans and programs engineer at HQ Air Force Materiel Command, the workplace of 80% of the scientists and engineers in the Department of the Air Force.

Heath Holt, science and engineering career field manager with AFCS’s Talent Management Division, makes a return visit to the program. He’s spent 35 years in aerospace with the Air Force, in private industry, and with AFCS.

In this evening’s episode, we do a deep dive into the STEM fields and the important role they play in the Air Force mission. The whole session is fascinating and informative, but here are the highlights if you need to skim through:

1:58 — Shandra describes her path from a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering to an accomplished 10-year career with AFCS.

6:47 — Heath outlines his aerospace career, from enlisted airman to a degreed electrical engineer in private industry, then back to the Air Force as an officer and now with AFCS.

11:27 — Shandra describes the value of the technical and leadership training the Air Force offers.

14:29 — Heath explains the breadth of experiences that civilian STEM professionals can look forward to when they choose a career with the Air Force.

15:14 — Heath comments on the range of focus areas in AFCS, such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data, 3D modeling, cybersecurity, and data analytics.

15:56 — Heath emphasizes that the Air Force also needs technical experts to support its new and legacy aircraft. These require a wide range of STEM capabilities, including human systems engineering, psychology, and biology, to support design, life cycle, and repair requirements.

17:51 — The guests discuss competition for STEM personnel from the private sector and how AFCS has an edge with candidates who want career stability along with career growth.

18:17 — Heath details the risks of working for employers in the aerospace and related industries, including lost contracts, declining stock prices, and layoffs.

19:42 — Heath elaborates on the work-life balance that AFCS offers in contrast to private employers or the uniformed side of the armed forces.

20:19 — Host Ryan Schneider cites his own time in the uniformed Air Force, saying that it’s nice to have an employer that takes care of you in a stable environment while also supporting career progression and chances to work in different fields.

20:57 — Shandra says that she was attracted to AFCS by the ability to grow and move among jobs within the same organization.

21:32 — Shandra talks about being the Air Force’s only F-15 landing gear engineer, which at times gave her a strong sense of responsibility, knowing that her decisions are important.

22:16 — Shandra recalls that she enjoyed meeting with and learning from representatives of the Israeli Defense Forces and the Japanese Defense Forces as part of the government-to-government responsibilities of her work.

22:49 — Shandra explains the satisfaction when personnel like her must ensure the sustainment and support of aircraft that have gone out of production.

25:29 — The two guests share their “eureka moments” — instances in their careers when they knew this was what they were meant to do. Both describe life-and-safety-threatening situations where they made a difference.

33:30 — Shandra shares advice about the kinds of courses you should take and the skills you need to succeed as a civilian STEM professional in the Air Force.

37:37 — Ryan asks if Heath had any hesitation about coming over to the civilian side of the Air Force.

41:35 & 43:31 — Ryan says that recent grads who want to apply for AFCS programs should go to For internship programs, go to

44:00 — Heath answers whether you need any degree to qualify for cybersecurity opportunities.

48:57 — Heath estimates how long the hiring process is, from job application to starting to work.

50:45 — Heath and Shandra answer if there is a pay grade level that indicates a position is entry level.

52:33 — Heath closes with thoughts about his fulfilling career in AFCS and the aerospace industry.

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