Developing Cross-Generational Talent

Amidst a dynamic and ever changing workforce, NASA strives to support the growth and development of each employee during every stage of their career. Understanding the current state of this workforce is integral to improving and ensuring the success of NASA employees.

There are currently five generations that comprise the U.S. workforce, ranging in ages from 16 to 80+. The population of older workers – over age 55 – is growing as people choose to stay engaged professionally and/or not fully retire.  At NASA, 36 percent of employees are 55 or older, and 21 percent of NASA employees are eligible for retirement. NASA enforces no mandatory retirement age, and embraces and supports the rich diversity and experience of this critical cohort.

NASA Employee Ages Percentage of Workforce
Under 20 0%
20 to 24 2%
25 to 29 5%
30 to 34 8%
35 to 39 10%
40 to 44 9%
45 to 49 10%
50 to 54 18%
55 to 59 20%
60 to 64 11%
65 to 69 4%
70 or older 2%

While an older workforce can possess crucial institutional knowledge, it may be perceived as accepting, not challenging, the “status quo”, even though the opposite is true.  In a study by the SHRM Foundation, they found that most older workers are open to change, are interested in learning new things, and can play significant roles in contributing to or leading teams .  Likewise, a younger workforce may heavily leverage technology-based solutions, but may be perceived as “bucking the system” or not accepting workplace norms. Karen Higginbottom of Forbes writes, “In a multi-generational workforce, there is potential for negative stereotyping….Organizations need to take steps to ensure managers overcome their unconscious bias.”  

NASA is working to bridge the generational gap to prevent negative stereotypes from inhibiting the workforce. Mentorship programs and collaborative projects create opportunities to reduce this unconscious bias. NASA Headquarters Modern Mentoring Program brings these two generations together to build a new united working culture at NASA.

Creating an array of educational programs and initiatives, NASA has also begun to close the gap between students and older generations working at NASA. NASA offers internships, fellowships, workshops and many more opportunities. Summer programs such as NASA Ames Academy for Space Exploration provide students interested in science and engineering with the opportunity to become apart of the NASA community. The Pathways Program at NASA additionally provides internships to highly motivated students whom are then considered for Federal employment. Fostering relationships with students and potential employees, helps NASA to create an productive working community amongst all age groups.  NASA Emeritus Programs support retirement-eligible employees with continuing to work in their careers on a voluntary part-time basis, and to train and mentor their successors. For example, After working at Goddard Spaceflight Center for 49 years, and at the age of 84, Vince Gigliotti retired but immediately returned as an Emeritus because of his sense of duty to continue working.

The multigenerational workforce is a driving force of change for organizations. NASA will continue to encourage and incentivize mutually beneficial cross-generational learning to bridge the gap between a new generation of talent and established NASA employees, as well look for new innovative solutions to engage all employees as it embraces the future of work.

About the Authors

Suzanna (Neely) Yates | Neely is a Content Hacker Intern at NASA.  She studies International Political Economy and Computer Science at Pitzer College, a member of the Claremont Colleges. Neely is passionate about making STEM a more inclusive field. She has interned for Congressmen and local officials to advocate for her ideas. Neely also loves coding and learning languages. Whether she is talking to a human or computer, she likes to learn how to communicate in new, creative ways.

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).