The Fortune 500 Insiders Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Today’s answer to the question, “What qualities should employers look for when hiring millennials?” is written by Greg Hyslop, chief technology officer of The Boeing Company and a leader of its 100 Days of Learning initiative.
One of my first projects as an early-career engineer at Boeing was putting a global positioning system (GPS) on a cruise missile. It’s the sort of thing you have to get right the first time. It’s also the sort of thing that took a while to get right.
That innovation—helping a missile know exactly where it is so it knows exactly where to go—took a large team of people with diverse expertise to figure out. Sure, we knew what the end result was supposed to be, but how we got there was up to our ingenuity, tried-and-true engineering processes, and a whole lot of perseverance.
In today’s workplace, perseverance is a critical skill in short supply. And for millennials looking to distinguish themselves, it’s a skill they should prioritize.
The challenges we address in the aerospace industry—enabling safe, reliable powered flight and space exploration—are hard, and can require several years to conquer. For every breakthrough we’ve notched over the last century, a team of people has been behind it with a steady commitment to solving a difficult task to help move society forward.
Problem-solving will always be at the root of innovation, and problem-solving requires a willingness to stick with a project right down to the last detail—even if it takes years to get from start to finish. I’ve been able to see two projects through to completion—one took nine years, the other 11—and experienced the gratification of seeing the results of our early decisions on the end product.
Yet in our industry, it’s unusual for someone to join a program team in its infancy and stay with it until the product is fielded. That’s a shame. If you leave a team before crossing the finish line, you miss out on learning the long-term consequences of choices you made early in the race and won’t be able to apply that valuable knowledge in similar situations in the future.
Perseverance is critical to all areas of the global economy, not just STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Knowing formulas and algorithms is only one part of success; you also need to know how to work with other people in a variety of situations, and when and how to apply technical expertise so that it makes a difference. This comes with time, experience, and learning and recovering from real failures.
I gained this experience while working on that GPS sensor, which made the missile much more accurate and valuable for our customer, and ended up being one of the first successful applications of a GPS on a cruise missile. Not only am I proud of the product we created, but I’m also grateful to have learned perseverance along the way.