Aerospace Industry Trends: Supplementing an Aging Workforce

In light of an aging aerospace workforce, do you have a plan for supplementing the knowledge that will disappear with your retirees? How do you plan to arm the next generation with the tribal knowledge that your existing talent possesses?

The aerospace and defense industry is in the midst of a massive talent obstacle that is becoming more inherent with each passing day. The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) explains the dilemma best in their “industry issues” stating:

 “A highly skilled and robust aerospace workforce is essential to our national security and economic prosperity. Yet today the industry faces impending retirements and a shortage of trained technical graduates, which is a situation that is forecasted to worsen within the decade.

Some companies address this issue by outsourcing work around the globe. In aerospace and defense, however, security requirements dictate that most design work on military systems must be done by U.S. citizens. Thus the need for U.S. developed technical talent is particularly acute to ensure a world-class aerospace workforce ready to lead in a global economy.

The Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry recommended “that the nation immediately reverse the decline in and promote the growth of a scientifically and technologically trained U.S. aerospace workforce…” adding that “the breakdown of America’s intellectual and industrial capacity is a threat to national security and our capability to continue as a world leader.” The Commission also recommended that resolving the crisis will require government, industry, labor and academia to work together.”

Why This Is Important

With arguably some of the world’s most complex product development programs, aerospace IPTs (Integrated Product Teams) benefit from a team approach in development of the aircraft having tribal/elder knowledge built in. As this expertise disappears, there needs to be a strategy in place for capturing that knowledge to leverage among the next generation engineers.

As AIA expresses above, today’s design engineers just do not have the manufacturing knowledge that their predecessors had. Lack of manufacturing knowledge and/or lack of visibility to manufacturing processes can lead to non-manufacturable designs, designs that run way over on cost, and Engineering Change Orders (ECOs), which can be extremely costly AND can result in program delays. Further, addressing issues late in the design phase or during production has an added layer of complexity due to certification processes.

With increasing global competitive pressure, companies must innovate using the latest materials and manufacturing processes, yet do so while minimizing their risk due to uncertainties and ensuring profitability.

Visibility to Cost and Manufacturability

Historically, aero program priorities were focused on two main goals:

  1. Achieving performance and weight targets
  2. Meeting schedule

As a result of focusing on performance and schedule, visibility to cost and manufacturability within the design community was limited. To remain competitive, aircraft manufacturers must instill this knowledge within the design teams as opposed to relying on the specialists who are gradually moving on.

Short and Long Term Solutions to the Aerospace Talent Crisis

So while the government does what it can to remedy this problem, what can aerospace companies do to create solutions to this talent crisis both short term and long term? And how can today’s engineers avoid design mistakes and identify cost issues before releasing to manufacturing?

1. Create a cultural shift to include manufacturability and cost awareness within the design community

When manufacturability, cost visibility and cost awareness are instituted as primary goals for a company’s product development programs, responsibility and visibility of cost is expected during the earliest stages of development, resulting in fewer ECOs down the line.

Some of the industry’s more forward-thinking companies, such as Pratt & Whitney, are instilling a culture of cost awareness.  At our recent Cost Insight event, Brian Schwartz, Affordability & Value Engineering Discipline Chief at Pratt & Whitney, shared with the audience a quote that Pratt’s CEO says often, declaring that cost has become a part of the company’s DNA:

“Cost is not a spectator’s sport.”

Similarly, Eyal Siryon, MCAD Technologies Team Manager at Rafael, said in regard to Rafael’s engineering strategy:

“The designer, the engineer, and the draftsman are all the same person. The spell checker’s philosophy is that you don’t give someone else your document to spell check.”

Creating a cultural shift needs to be an enterprise-wide philosophy and senior management buy-in is critical to its success.

2. Arm your design community with the ability to understand cost drivers in their designs

Arm your design community with the ability to understand cost drivers in their designs, quickly evaluate alternative designs, and identify features that drive manufacturing complexity.

Some companies are using aPriori to change the culture and to provide some training without overwhelming design engineers. Designers gain visibility into manufacturing routings and receive real time feedback on cost and manufacturability as they iterate on their designs. Gradually, designers can build their own expertise by leveraging the tribal knowledge of the specialists that has been digitally embedded into their CAD-Integrated cost and manufacturing guidance system.

So as your talented engineers prepare for the next stage in their lives, know that there are strategies and solutions for maintaining their expertise and knowledge within your organization for the next generation.

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