Kooima: ‘The work is not slowing down’

China Lakers predict another prosperous year

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Kooima: ‘The work is not slowing down’The keynote speaker at the IWV Economic Outlook Conference, presented Feb. 28 by the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce, told his listeners to be prepared to be “bored” by more of the same trends in the future.

“If this is boring, I’ll take boring!” said Harlan Kooima, director of software and mission systems integration at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake.

In keeping with the other presenters at the conference, he delivered a glowing projection of 2019-20.

“We are still projecting growth, hiring all the quality candidates we can get our hands on,” said Kooima. “The work is not slowing down.”

Since 2010, the civilian workforce at China Lake has grown from 3,430 to 4,343.

In that same span of time, employees with 10 years experience or less rose to the new majority — a new challenge considering a decade ago, top officials were trying to ensure that they had enough candidates to backfill the majority of employees who were rapidly approaching retirement.

The new challenge is something Kooima asked the community for help on — retention.

“Our numbers today indicate that only 50 percent of our workforce will still be here in 10 years. That is a scenario we need to work on. We put a lot of effort into getting people here — recruiting events, site visits, training, investing in their lives.”

Retention is the one area they have not been able to “move the needle” on. Kooima noted that Director of Human Resources Richard Cracraft told him, “‘Don’t feel special. It’s been that way for a long time.’

“I want to feel special on this. We all put a lot of energy into the new workforce, what can we do to keep them here?”

Last year, NAWCWD Executive Director Joan Johnson noted that one of the greatest challenges to the local mission of national defense was shortage of housing. One year later, hundreds of new apartment units are months away from opening.

Agencies like IWC Economic Development Corp. and China Lake Alliance have been actively involved in driving community-focused solutions that support base challenges, and EDC Executive Director Scott O’Neil noted that his board has taken on the retention challenge as well. (See next week’s edition for highlights of his report.)

On the brick-and-mortar side of NAWCWD, the base is working on a MILCON for a new hangar for F-35. If the request is approved, that expansion could result in hundreds more billets for numerous disciplines at China Lake.

“Our secret sauce is having a lot of co-located services,” said Kooima.

He anticipated space for six F-35s, and a “full complement” of support services associated with flight test, development, operational testers, program offices, interoperability, integration and more.

Kooima said that China Lake is at the leading edge of redefining how the Navy fights.

“We are putting a lot of energy into longer-range engagements,” e said. NAWCWD has a unique skill set because they bring technological expertise that has an end effect that broadens the historic definition of tools for the warfighter.

“It’s important that we are helping the Navy re-think and re-evaluate how we fight. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re of little value.”

Story First Published: 2019-03-15