3 industry leaders talk tackling the aerospace skills challenge

At the ADS CEO Briefing, held recently, the leadership panel debated the key issues affecting aerospace companies. Taking part were Scott McLarty, VP UK & Malaysia, Spirit AeroSystems; Colin Smith, Chairman of the Aerospace Growth Partnership & President, ADS; and Paul Everitt, CEO, ADS. One of the hottest topics was the skills challenge.

Many are concerned about the skills supply chain in aerospace, particularly in the UK after Brexit.

Colin Smith said: “I'm quite optimistic that there will be a resolution on the people transfer between [the EU and the UK] because it would be in no one's advantage to create huge barriers there.”

He said more work needs to be done both in the education system and by engineering companies themselves.

Smith commented: “We don't have enough people coming through primary schools into secondary schools with the knowledge of what science and technology can offer you as a career. [And] … if you don't do maths by the time you're 10, you're never going to do it. So that rules out so many career options, whether it's veterinary or biochemical or whatever, and engineering.”

Start early

According to Smith: “We need more and more drive in the UK from a pure competitiveness point of view to match the growing Asian and other economies -- the maths teaching in India is phenomenal.  And you've got to start very, very early and drive it through. And frankly, I don't think the Department of Education is consistent enough on that.”

But, he added: “The engineering companies aren't very good themselves at promoting engineering inside their own companies. When you are an engineer and you look over the road and you see that your colleagues in finance are getting paid more; in an engineering company it grates.”

Apprenticeships

Scott McLarty talked about the value of apprenticeships, and compared the UK to Malaysia.

“One of the challenges we have is the demographics of the workforce,” he said. “At the moment, the UK average is about 47; in Malaysia it is 27  a much younger workforce."

He also cited the importance of "really strongly backed government schemes in terms of getting people in from both semi-skilled and skilled perspective and that pipeline of talent.”

“The UK's a little bit tougher,” he said. “We are doing some good things, and when we open the apprenticeships up, we're getting some really good [responses]. For instance, ten apprenticeships would be 40, 50 applicants at least, if not over 100 applicants. So certainly demand's there, but the skill set sometimes is a mixture of under-qualified and overqualified. We do seem to be focusing very heavily on university education. We need to maybe swing the balance a little bit back towards apprentice education because we need both.”

Branding

Paul Everitt noted that larger businesses and “brands that people know and love” don’t have problems attracting apprentices, graduates and post-graduates but it can be tougher for SMEs.

He commented: “I think where we do face more challenges is down into the supply chain where the brands of the companies is not so strong."

He added: “Some of that is down to the fact that they don't necessarily have all the resources to organise and orchestrate that activity. Some do, and do a good job, but the majority, particularly those that are growing quite quickly, are busy chasing everyday business.”

On improving this, Everitt agreed with both Smith and McLarty, saying: “We have to expand the pipeline of young people who see engineering and manufacturing as a career. There is tough competition. Aerospace is growing quickly but there are a number of other high-grade sectors as well in the UK.”

He cited, for example, automotive, motorsport and nuclear, etc.

“Fom an aerospace point of view, we do have to fight our corner in making sure that our proposition to those young people is a good one, but I think there is a broader collective action for the UK, which is just to put more value on careers in manufacturing and engineering.”

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