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A PROBLEM FOR SIMULATION JOBS

Events at Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) provided the kind of glimpse rarely offered into the world of a sprawling industry still struggling to find its footing.

As the demonstrations at VMASC's north Suffolk campus showed, the potential for modeling and simulation is - pardon the pun - virtually unlimited. The technology can be applied to solve all sorts of problems across all kinds of industries. Hundreds gathered to swap ideas and discuss applications, as well as to hear Gov. Bob McDonnell tout their efforts to solve complex problems.

"When we talk about modeling and simulation," the governor said, "you see computers; I see jobs."

There are lots of jobs. The governor noted, as The Pilot's Sarah Kleiner Varble reported Thursday, that in Virginia, 10,300 people work in modeling and simulation in the private sector, and another 4,600 do so for the government and military.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to know exactly how many people across the country actually do this kind of critical, high-tech work, much less how many might be engaged in it in the future.

Despite years of efforts, industry proponents haven't been able to persuade the federal government to classify modeling and simulation as a distinct occupational group.

It seems like a small matter, but the big result is an industry that can affect countless occupations, that can become a field of study - graduate and undergraduate programs are now offered at ODU - but cannot be quantified in the workplace. That makes it difficult to show students and businesses the impact modeling and simulation has on industry, defense, health care, utilities, transportation, land-use planning, technology.

"Because it's pervasive, people kind of take it for granted," said Fred Lewis, a retired rear admiral and former president of the National Training and Simulation Association.

Lewis and others at last week's event intend to push again next year, when a public comment period opens, to persuade the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and other federal agencies to change their position in 2018, when they finally meet again to revise the classification system.

Federal policymakers are, unsurprisingly, behind the curve. As far back as 2007, Congress acknowledged the industry's importance through a House resolution introduced by Chesapeake Republican Rep. Randy Forbes that recognized it as a "national critical technology."

The struggle for greater recognition, however, indicates a reluctance in Washington to relinquish an antiquated model of its own: bureaucratic inertia.

Published on: November 1, 2012