“Every aerospace and defense company I've talked to is trying to achieve the right size, and as part of that they are both hiring and reducing,” says Richard Stephens, Boeing's senior vice president for administration and human resources. “We have been working to get the workforce right.” As defense budgets turn down in the U.S. and Europe, Stephens sees an industry that is more diversified than it was a decade ago. “Yes, there is a very large defense component, but we go beyond defense,” he says. “We are much more diversified.”
But if you are betting that soaring orders for commercial aircraft will soak up all the jobs lost to defense cuts, think again. Respondents to Aviation Week's survey plan to make just 15,609 civil aerospace hires during the next five years. Those same companies plan to hire 102,735 new employees for defense jobs—if the sequestration cuts can somehow be avoided.
That goal, elusive as it may seem, has kept Marion Blakey on her feet for months. Blakey, president and CEO of the U.S. Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), has been prodding, cajoling and issuing dire warnings as she tries to stop the march toward sequestration. Working with a George Mason University professor, Stephen S. Fuller, and Chmura Economics and Analytics, the AIA calculates that sequestration will create a bow wave of economic devastation that will ripple across the industry and spill over into other sectors such as construction, wiping out more than 2 million jobs and pushing the U.S. unemployment rate back above 9%.
Blakey has been so effective at sounding the alarm that anxiety has spread to many corners of the A&D workforce. “I just met with a group of young professionals, and the first question they had was, 'What is the impact of sequestration on us?'” says Wanda Austin, CEO at The Aerospace Corp.
Austin's response was to remind employees of their purpose. “I asked them, 'Why did you choose this field to begin with?' We need to remind ourselves we are about exploration, discovering new capabilities, the fabulous things we do through space. Space isn't just up there; it is part of our daily life, like turning on the lights. Focus on this: 'What are you doing that is of value?'”
But Austin is not blind to reality: Respondents to the workforce survey plan to make just 1,420 hires in the space sector during the next five years. The Aerospace Corp. has aggressively looked to identify and weed out redundancies or duplications, while working with employees to update their skills and experience to match where the company's customers are heading.
Among other highlights of this year's workforce survey:
•Finding skilled workers. Respondents believe the most important factor for future success is a well-trained workforce. Eighty-two percent identified this as the most important element for business success, ahead of innovation and mergers and acquisitions.
The biggest growth roadblock for Acutec Precision Machining of Saegertown, Pa., is finding skilled machinists. To deal with the shortage, the company developed an on-site training program that puts senior machinists in the roles of teachers. The company also partners with area trade schools and is attracting interest from high school students, says Patrick Faller, who leads Acutec's human resources.