Dr Gordon Mizner, CEO of a key charity working with the aerospace growth partnership, discusses the on-going need for the aerospace industrial cadet programme, which was launched last year.

In economics, market failure is defined as “a situation where free markets fail to allocate resources efficiently”.

In aerospace, it could be said that the current and future shortage of skilled engineers and technicians for recruitment in the UK aerospace industry represents just such a market failure as, despite a demand and a willingness to pay, the market is being decidedly sluggish in delivering fresh talent into profitable businesses that are desperate for these skills.

Indeed, this appears to be the case in a range of sectors, particularly those working with advanced technology.

The work of Elinor Ostrom, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Economics, explores how, when such market failure occurs, one potentially successful response is for stakeholders to group together and negotiate routes by which the failure can be overcome. In many ways, the work of the aerospace growth partnership (AGP) and, in particular, the AGP skills group, to tackle skills shortages and create a “talent pipeline” can be seen as just such an effort to overcome market failure by collective action.

A key plank in this collective action is the aerospace industrial cadet programme (AICP), on which AGP is working with the charity that I represent, the Engineering Development Trust (EDT).

Aerospace Industrial Cadet Programme

AICP enables companies in the aerospace sector to deliver high-quality workplace experiences to young people in their recruitment catchment areas. The logic of this is the observation that most young people do not have a clear idea of the jobs that are available in their local industries and will tend to make subject choice decisions at school without any real understanding of what careers in engineering and technology look like.

The programme ensures that as many suitable candidates as possible are encouraged to study subjects relevant to aerospace careers and that they are aware of, and inspired into, jobs that are available in the industry.

It is a way of accrediting workplace experiences run by AGP members and of rewarding the young people with a nationally recognised award, which acknowledges the experience they have entered into and the skills they have had the opportunity of gaining.

Since 2012, the overall industrial cadets (IC) programme has graduated 6,200 young people, of which 45% were female. IC has accredited more than 100,000 learner training hours, has engaged with almost 200 employers and trained 530 cadet mentors. Of those going through the workplace experience, 95% feel that their personal skills have improved and, crucially, 70% of the cadets feel they are more likely to enter the industry in which they have had the experience.

The AICP is also designed to raise the profile of the aerospace sector among young people and schools. This is a medium/long-term commitment by the AGP skills working group, during which case examples and best practice will be built up and shared.

Now we have made a start, we can work with AGP members to accelerate the programme and start seeing the benefits.

Employer benefits

For employers there are many benefits of AICP including:

  • A strengthened company journey for student programmes to utilise future talent;
  • Potential cost savings in structured workplace experience programmes;
  • Joining an industry-recognised accreditation inspired by HRH The Prince of Wales;
  • Support in creating/further bespoke programme for students;
  • Recognition of the IC brand nationally and locally;
  • Opportunities for staff to develop personal skills;
  • Access to the IC online network for employers and students across the whole UK, allowing visibility of the company and job opportunities to all industrial cadets, past and present.

There is, however, a caution in Ostrom’s work, as she seeks to identify the key ingredients for successful collective action to overcome market failure.

One key ingredient is what she calls “proportional equivalence between costs and benefits”. Basically, this means that having some members doing all the work while others get the benefits is unsustainable over the long term. Everybody must do their fair share and those who go beyond the call of duty must be recognised.

What this means for AICP to be an effective tool to start to tackle skills shortage is that ‘buy-in’ to the programme must be wide, it must include the bigger companies and the smaller companies all contributing proportionately to their potential benefits.

To make real impact on skills, the aerospace industry needs companies large and small to cooperate to play their part in initiatives like AICP. The market isn’t doing the job at present, so Ostrom’s collective method may well represent the best available way forward.

Case study: Rolls-Royce

Leading aerospace manufacturer, Rolls-Royce, has been running work experience activity with local schools for many years and, over the past year, accredited them using the IC framework.

Paul Broadhead, head of community investment & education outreach, Rolls-Royce explained: “IC helps us to assure the quality and value of our placements.

“Businesses want young people to be more ready for the workplace. To help them build their employability skills, gain early experience of the world of work and help them understand future career options in the exciting world of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), Rolls-Royce remains committed to providing a high number of quality work experience opportunities for young people (age 14-19) across our UK sites.”

Work experience is vital to enable young people to taste the opportunities available in industry. However, the number of opportunities that they can be given in their school careers may be limited. That is why the well-designed programmes that Rolls-Royce has accredited through IC enables them to make the most of their limited opportunities.

In addition, an IC-accredited programme gives the student a nationally recognised qualification to put on his or her CV, allowing them to demonstrate that they have had an excellent insight into the aerospace industry through Rolls-Royce.

Emma Allott, advanced apprentice, Rolls-Royce, is one student whose work experience lead directly to an engineering career. She said: “I had little to no experience in engineering before my work experience with Rolls-Royce but this opened the engineering door to me. I completed both practical and technical activities on various sites, which greatly increased my confidence. This showed me that I could use my creativity and technical abilities side-by-side, and confirmed that this route was the right one for me.”

A student from Bristol Technology & Engineering Academy spent a week on an IC placement with Rolls Royce in manufacturing engineering. He said: “It was amazing to see different departments coming together to assemble a Trent engine. During my time with the company I toured the shop floor and saw blades being produced as my theoretical lessons became real in front of me. I was also taken through design drawings, where I could see the daily challenges engineers have to contend with.”

Rolls-Royce managers across the UK are quick to appreciate the benefits that the well-balanced and well-designed work placements can bring.

Bryce Conduit, horizon scanning IPT lead at the Rolls-Royce Strategic Research Centre, is impressed with the way the students engage with the placements.

“The inquiring and innovative perspective that work experience students bring to their placement provides a useful contribution to the horizon scanning process, which examines and explores opportunities and threats from emerging technologies, new ideas and significant changes in legislation,” he said. “The students prepare and distribute technical summaries and outline the business impact of the topic they have scanned to the wider business. Many of the work experience students we’ve had have expressed a strong interest in working for Rolls-Royce in future years.”

David Gemmell, operations manager – component repair, Civil MRO at Inchinnan in Scotland appreciates the impact that work experience can have, both on the young people and on the Rolls-Royce employees who have mentored them during their placement. He said: “Through the work experience programmes, we are moulding potential employees of the future. One week of work experience could change a young person’s career direction. The sense of achievement, after a successful work experience, is also felt by the employee, who has supported the candidate. He or she will have the feeling of being a stepping stone on the person’s career path and sharing the values and behaviours that we, at Rolls Royce, are proud of.”

Case study: AVPE

Precision engineering company, AVPE, was the first SME in the UK to complete an IC placement under the new AICP.

Chairman Chris Steel said: “As a member of the AGP skills group, I am particularly aware of the gap between schools and industry, which means that many very able young people often simply don’t know about the careers that are available in their local industries. I am also aware that the very large problem of skills availability that the aerospace industry is facing will continue into the future. For this reason, I agreed to provide a pilot experience under the AICP to prove its capability in a SME environment.”

Bristol-based AVPE delivers precision computer numerical control (CNC)-machined and assembled components to the aerospace industy’s leading names. In particular, it is a direct supplier to Airbus, both in the UK and Germany.

The APVE ‘fast shop’ capability for machined components with a very short lead time has also lead to a new relationship with the highly regarded Williams Formula 1 team.

The student taken on by AVPE, Harry Maund, was 17 and undertaking the work experience placement accredited at IC silver level. The contact was via the local Kings of Wessex Academy, where Harry was a sixth-form student looking for work experience in an aerospace environment.

Over the week, Harry was involved with many of AVPE’s functions, having the opportunity to see computer-aided design, gaining a rounded insight into the manufacturing processes and having the opportunity to understand how support functions such as finance, IT and administration integrate with the core activities to make a successful business.

A good amount of time was spent on his project, which culminated with a presentation of his findings to company management.

Steel said: “Harry was a very capable student and there was genuine mutual benefit from his work experience. As a project, within his overall work experience, Harry was asked to undertake time and motion studies within the inspection area and identify capacity constraints that we need to overcome. His analytical capability was outstanding and that, together with his good interpersonal skills, meant that we have been able to make significant progress with tackling the constraints that he identified.”

Greg Stewart, IC director, said: “The challenge for the aerospace industry is to engage the many high-quality SMEs in the sector with the massive task of bringing new blood into the industry.

“IC is an excellent way to do this as the expertise exists to ensure that smaller companies can design accredited work experience quickly and easily. It can also provide that vital link into local schools, where many students are looking for work experience opportunities.”

Steel agreed adding: “The future supply of a skilled workforce is the responsibility of the whole aerospace industry, not just the big corporate companies. If every SME in the sector took just one student a year under the AICP, it would make an enormous difference to the numbers introduced to the industry and given direct information on the excellent careers available.

“AVPE has proved in this pilot placement that there can be a real immediate benefit to the SME from taking the student, so my recommendation to aerospace SMEs is to contact IC and discuss how to progress a placement.”