Will the A&D workforce be prepared for the future?

August 30, 2016

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By Jim Adams, Principal, Strategy&

Workforce issues in aerospace and defense (A&D) are near the top of the list of challenges facing the industry. A significant number of workers in A&D are eligible for retirement or approaching retirement eligibility in the next five years. But the industry has little attrition and a low retirement rate. Unfortunately, the uncertainty of workforce retirement makes it difficult to plan for the future. An additional problem is that there are few new defense programs starts and more competition from non-traditional A&D companies. Regardless of these issues, companies have to ensure they maintain current expertise while forecasting future hiring needs, such as what skill sets will be needed and when to hire for them.

Another major challenge is attracting and retaining talent. A&D, like most industries, is in need of people with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) backgrounds who can operate in a technological world and drive innovation. But there is fierce competition for STEM graduates from high-tech companies, and graduates believe that these companies offer challenging opportunities, rapid advancement, and mobility. Also, other industries and non-traditional A&D companies are competing with legacy A&D companies for specialized skill sets, such as autonomous systems engineers, additive manufacturing experts, and data analysts.

A&D’s uncertain environment contributes to the challenge of attracting and retaining talent. Many countries (most notably the US) have been cutting back on defense budgets for several years now, and it’s unclear when and if that will turn around. The commercial environment is increasingly competitive, and companies are having to keep costs down and achieve their performance objectives. Given these difficulties, the challenge for A&D is how to attract and retain employees (with critical skills for today and emerging skill requirements for the future) without offering the long-term incentive of pensions. Historically, the industry’s compensation packages included pensions; but in today’s environment –pensions do not always make economic sense.

Analytics and technology can help A&D companies address some of these workforce challenges. A good start would be to increase the use of analytics in examining workforce data to develop a baseline of current and future needs. Companies can then project future skill set requirements in light of their business projections and future environmental outlook. Once these scenario-based decisions are made, companies can move to establish workforce policies to support these decisions.

Companies should also continue to invest in the future workforce by promoting STEM education at all levels. They can broaden their recruitment strategies and further develop training and development programs. Through these activities, A&D companies can promote the importance and excitement of working in this industry.

For further insight on the workforce landscape within the A&D industry, read Aviation Week’s 2016 Workforce Study.



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