The Aero sector needs to act now if it’s going to tackle the skills shortage once and for all!

Monday, December 4, 2017

The aerospace sector has often been viewed as playing catch-up to the automotive sector – and why not?  If we can adapt their ideas and methodologies in the pursuit of manufacturing and engineering excellence then it’s in everyone’s interest surely.

However, one initiative that the Aerospace industry really should consider replicating is the recently formed Automotive Industrial Partnership (AIP). Established in 2014 by the Automotive Council, it brought together leading auto companies, industry bodies, academic institutions and advisors with one simple aim – to address the acute skills shortage within Automotive manufacturing.

This single act of collaboration has proved a real success and already generating measurable results, including:

– attracting more young people to careers in the industry

– Supporting upskilling of workers

– career progression and retention of staff

What’s concerning is that the aerospace industry has been facing exactly the same (and some may argue more severe) impending shortage of skills and talent – a subject matter I first wrote about in 2012 as we emerged from recession.

Worryingly we have allowed other advanced manufacturing sectors to actively poach our industry talent without us putting up a fight; failing to promote the successes, innovation and career opportunities that we can offer. I often hear people talk about the issue, but little has been done. Agreed, a few companies have their increased Apprentice and/or Graduate intake but it’s merely a drop in the ocean compared to what is actually needed according to industry estimates.

We all know that the skills shortage in the aerospace sector is at critical point and already starting to effect companies’ ability to deliver against programmes. We continually hear about the launch of new innovation centres, rapid sector growth, and £ multi-million funding for new technologies, but nobody seems to want to acknowledge the one burning question – where will the talent come from to ensure success?

When will our industry admit that the skills shortage is probably the single most pressing and urgent matter we have to contend with right now, and it’s only going to get worse? Our industry bodies have done a fantastic job in supporting innovation & securing funding, all of which has proved invaluable to growth, but who’s actually tackling the skills shortage agenda. Visit any of their websites and you’ll be hard pressed to find an article addressing or tackling the subject.

So who’s going to take the lead?

I recently heard that industry bodies feel that it’s government responsibility to put a strategy in place. Fact is, the government hasn’t stepped up sufficiently, so surely it’s time for industry to take on the challenge?

Furthermore, we should follow the automotive industry’s lead and devise our own cohesive aligned plan with companies, academic establishments, the government, and dare I say it, recruitment experts too. We need to inform people from a young age what a fantastic sector the aerospace industry is; companies need to align with academic institutions to ensure courses cover new technologies; and companies need to look at other sectors for talent acquisition.

We also need to standardise job specifications to create uniformity between companies, plus encourage better work equality and diversity within our industry. (only 13% of attendees at the recent ATI event were female for instance).

The UK has long been seen as the place for innovation and that is because of the talent, innovation and skills of our workforce. We simply can’t afford to lose that edge.

James Charlett is  Business Manager for Aerospace at Consilium Recruit.

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