A recent report by the Aerospace Industries Association, entitled “The Defining Workforce Challenge in U.S. Aerospace & Defense”, identified critical challenges in maintaining the highly skilled and robust defense and aerospace workforce essential to our nation’s security and economic prosperity. Root causes for the shortage include our aging baby boomer-dominated workforce, a serious shortage of STEM-ready college graduates, competition from other technology-driven sectors, and the changing technology needs of our industry.
The aging workforce problem has reached critical mass. According to the AIA report, over 40 percent of the skilled trades people in the aerospace industry have retired within the past few years. Fortunately, the impact of this loss has been relatively tempered by the shift to continued part-time work in “retirement”. But, the magnitude of the loss requires a steady talent stream of new workers with the right skills, aptitude, experience, and interest to fill the jobs vacated by senior-level engineers and skilled technicians.
Despite numerous programs, initiatives, and campaigns geared toward attracting more students to careers in STEM, a significant academic and skills gap still remains. And for this dwindling crop of STEM graduates, the space sector sees increased competition from other technology-driven sectors. As cited in the 2015 Aviation Week Workforce Study, competition for specific engineering skills is broadening and becoming more intense as automotive, high tech, and oil and gas industry needs expand.