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How are Aerospace and Defence manufacturers adapting to attract top talent in an increasingly competitive market

2 Nov 2022

The UK Aerospace and Defence (A&D) manufacturing sector is a hotspot for cutting edge technologies, ground-breaking innovation, and scientific expertise, but as the industry embarks on its digitalisation journey, how are the biggest industry players competing for the top talent?

In the sixth of our Intelligent Industry: Journey to The Manufacturer events blog series, James Kelly explores how Aerospace and Defence manufacturers are adapting to attract top talent in an increasingly competitive market.

In a hybrid working world, A&D organisations today must focus on their people more than ever before

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies across the world have had to reimagine how they nurture and retain the best talent and keep ever-increasing attrition rates down. Specifically in the UK A&D market, where skills are in short supply, companies are having to overhaul their approaches to talent and workforce to adapt in addition to evolving their operating model and embracing new flexible ways of working.

The pandemic accelerated the move to a remote or hybrid working model across the industry. In this ‘new normal’, A&D companies must meet the needs of all employee groups, providing flexibility while also maintaining operational performance tied to its essential workforce. By offering hybrid and remote working, A&D companies are able to recruit across a much larger geographical area than ever before. But how will companies keep people connected? A solution to this may be to open ‘satellite’ offices dotted around the country, with appropriate security controls, enabling regional workers to get together in an office environment while also enabling a wider reach for recruitment.

Product innovation requires workforce innovation

The A&D industry is at the forefront of technological innovation and is always looking ahead at the future needs of its customers, but manufacturers also need to look within at its culture, the needs of its people and the skills of the future. This will mean upskilling and reinvigorating the current workforce, recruiting for new digital skills, and building a stronger talent pipeline.

The industry presents its own unique challenges when it comes to talent

The A&D sector represents a dynamic workforce made up of a variety of skillsets, ranging from aerodynamicists, space scientists and skilled technicians, but a major issue in the industry today is the aging workforce. Many of the skilled workforce within the sector have had careers spanning over 25 years at the same company, often with multigenerational employees, who retain a high level of tacit knowledge. This aging workforce is leaving a substantial skills gap in roles that cannot be easily backfilled and this could have an impact for years to come. As a result, many of the large UK A&D manufacturers are now focusing on ensuring that there is a sufficient pipeline of talent to combat the high rate of those near to retirement.

To address this, companies are focusing on building their intensive mentorship and apprenticeship programmes to encourage knowledge transfer and deeper connection between employee generations. Many companies are now also contracting retired experienced engineers with high levels of tacit knowledge as external consultants during their retirement as their assistance can be crucial.

But perhaps a more fundamental mindset shift is needed, as success as an expert is often not measured by you, but by the talent you create around you.

Fighting the battle for digital talent

The A&D sector is aware of the clear and compelling case to leverage digital technologies to drive value across manufacturing and supply chain operations. However, the increased cross-industry global competition for high-end digital skills in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation, analytics and software development are making it tougher for A&D manufacturers to hire the top digital talent. Students graduating in the field of computer science and technology are often drawn towards the big tech companies like Google, Amazon, or Meta.

What sets apart companies like SpaceX who have the top US digital graduates fighting for places on their development programmes? The companies that are at the forefront of innovation and breaking new technical boundaries tend to attract the best engineers, developers and scientists in the market. Why? Because it is an exciting place to work, and talent breeds talent. UK A&D manufacturers can learn from companies like SpaceX who have built their recruitment brand around breaking boundaries and being part of the transition to inter-planetary travel.

To grow their digital excellence, UK A&D manufacturers must first reform their culture and operating model to become a new organisation on the inside before being a reformed organisation on the outside. To attract the best digital talent to join the industry, the big A&D manufacturers must shift their mindset to focus on creative marketing to drive the corporate brand as well as being bolder and more proactive in their recruitment approach on available channels such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor. But doing this only works in the long term when the marketing matches the actual culture, ways of working and growth opportunities inside the organisation, so continuous culture change becomes a predominate theme for long-term success.

Continuous culture change is essential but what does it mean in the digital space? One avenue is for A&D manufacturers to relentlessly focus on building their digital business functions and establishing career development paths for existing employees to develop their digital skills. One way for A&D organisations to build their digital brand with prospective students is by launching collaborative partnerships with computer science departments at top universities, funding technical digital research projects, as well as sponsoring PhD students through their studies.

To continue the A&D sector’s strength and growth post-pandemic, companies must be creative in their recruitment approach and bold with their workforce transformation strategy. This will enable them to remain competitive in an ever-growing fight to build the digital workforce of the future.

To read more blogs in the Intelligent Industry: Journey to The Manufacturer events series, see quick links below:

Still flying high after Farnborough International Airshow 2022 – Mike Dwyer reflects on the successes of the Farnborough International Airshow and looks forward to what we have planned for The Manufacturer events in Liverpool on 16th and 17th November.

The challenges of adopting Industry 4.0 – Do you have the vision? – Graham Upton explores the challenges organisations face when adopting Industry 4.0.

Enabling the future of Manufacturing by focusing on people – George Hull shares his perspective on why the future of the Manufacturing sector is exciting but complex and explores the importance of focusing on people to champion best-in-class technology and processes.

Designing a sustainable future for the electrified automotive value chain – Billy Cavanagh highlights the major future issues for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and companies across the electric vehicle (EV) battery value chain, and what solutions they should proactively implement to mitigate their impact.

Imagining Tomorrow – The Future of Manufacturing in a Changing World – Susie Dixon explores the future of manufacturing in a changing world.