The A&D sector is enjoying strong growth, with transport aircraft orders at record levels and more dollars allocated for defense this year. But companies cannot deliver unless they have the right people—and that has A&D executives concerned. In our recent interviews with industry leaders, they expressed the difficulty of finding skilled labor, STEM talent, and managerial expertise. And, with other industries facing a similar challenge, A&D companies have to compete to attract and retain the workforce they need to succeed.
And in our interviews, they said they’ve already made changes to workplace culture as well as making better use of technology to develop and engage workers. They are identifying key employees and “reskilling” them through training and continuing education, both on the job and through technology-enabled tools. Current workers are gaining new skills and knowledge to fill positions in AI, data science, automation, cyber, and advanced manufacturing. Other companies are taking a more arms-length approach, encouraging employees to take advantage of educational and development opportunities outside of work by providing tuition reimbursement.
Many A&D companies are redeploying talent by providing greater internal mobility and rotational opportunities. Some skills are easily adapted across departments, but others require some modification. In the words of one industry executive, “We need to shift from a customer/program mindset to a company-focused one.”
Industry execs know they need to do more to meet changing conditions. For example, to attract the emerging workforce, they need to establish more flexible work policies. To deal with baby boomer retirements, they must identify critical skills and ensure the smooth transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next. And, to broaden the talent pool, they need to do more to attract more women and minorities. Our analysis of Aviation Week’s recent workforce study shows that these groups continue to be underrepresented both in the overall A&D workforce and at the executive level. In fact, the percentage of women on the executive payroll declined almost three percentage points in the last year, and Hispanics had the highest rate of voluntary attrition. These numbers point to a huge opportunity to expand the workforce by bringing more women and minorities on board through targeted recruitment efforts and better retention policies.
A&D leaders also have to find innovative ways to deal with the issue of security clearance. In 2018, 42% of the workforce had security clearance and 12.3% had “above a secret” clearance. And those percentages are getting larger as the government demands clearance for a wider range of jobs, resulting in a growing backlog. One executive we interviewed said her company’s solution was to get people cleared before they are actually hired.
It’s clear that A&D companies have been trying to address the talent crunch and evolving to meet new challenges. Most of them have the tools to build on current efforts—and a powerful aid in the form of workforce analytics, which can give companies a clearer picture of what initiatives are working and what aren’t. Companies can use this feedback to improve recruitment, retention, reskilling, and knowledge transfer efforts. With continuous feedback, A&D companies can fine tune their workforce policies to achieve organizational goals and help ensure the sector continues to thrive.
For further insight on the workforce landscape within the A&D industry, check out Aviation Week’s 2018 Workforce Study.