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Can upskilling help A&D companies continue to thrive?

12 September, 2019

John Karren
Industrial Products People & Organization Leader, PwC US
Miguel Smart
Partner, PwC US

The A&D sector is thriving as demand for air travel increases along with growing worldwide defense needs. But to fulfill customer expectations, the sector has to continue to innovate—and innovation requires digital acumen. With fierce competition for that talent, companies are boosting their efforts to attract and retain people that will enable success.

One way of obtaining needed skills is to invest in upskilling through workforce training and education. CEOs know they cannot hire enough talent externally and that it can be less expensive and more expedient to address skill gaps through workforce training and education. In fact, in our 2019 Global CEO Survey, 46% said that significant upskilling was the most important factor in closing the skills gap.

Upskilling programs generally offer a mix of opportunities to make learning convenient as well as effective. Some programs are set in the workplace, such as job rotations, apprenticeships, and mentorships. For A&D companies, which have a high proportion of experienced employees, mentorships provide a practical way to transfer knowledge to new employees, ensuring that valuable skills stay within the company. Another effective tool is a “digital hub” through which employees can access upskilling classes, collaborate on projects, and exchange ideas. In January, PwC launched a two-year training program to boost employees’ digital skills, encourage learning through peer interaction, and empower employees to innovate. This Digital Accelerator program will include classes in data, analytics, blockchain, automation, AI and machine learning, coding, and user experience design.

External upskilling programs can include partnering with various educational institutions. In some cases, A&D companies are working closely with universities, community colleges, and technical trade schools to tailor STEM-related programs. One company recently introduced a STEM scholarship program, allocating $10 million over five years. Other companies are offering free or low-cost access to online certification programs and continuing education courses. These efforts not only help make A&D more attractive to diverse and under-represented populations, but they allow companies to identify promising candidates for future employment.

Upskilling can also help with recruiting and retention efforts. With most A&D companies offering similar comp and benefits packages, upskilling programs can serve as a differentiator. Young people looking for a place to build a career will be attracted to a company that is willing to invest in its workers and provide opportunities for interesting and challenging experiences. Upskilling efforts can also be oriented to certain workforce segments to bring about more diversity and inclusion. For example, one major A&D company created upskilling programs specifically directed at returning veterans and people coming back to work after a two-year break (such as new parents).

In our work with clients, we see the most successful upskilling programs start by assessing the digital fitness of the organization relative to the skills required to execute its strategy and improve shareholder value. A company can then create programs geared at developing those skills, tracking results, and using the feedback—from employees as well as objective measures—for continuous improvement. The data can then be subjected to analytic analysis to help determine which learning approaches work best with various populations. And to anticipate and prepare for future workforce needs, companies will need to invest in forecasting tools and artificial intelligence. The costs of these investments have to be weighed against the benefits of building a more agile, diverse workforce that can compete successfully in a world of technological disruption.

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