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It used to be that aerospace industry could always rely on the best STEM graduates choosing careers in it. But the advent of Big Tech is changing that. File picture of a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo jet. Image for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: AP

Innovation remains fundamentally important for the aerospace and defence (A&D) sector, especially when it comes to competing with other industries to attract the world’s brightest talent. Within this sector, the Middle East’s aerospace sector will see around 8 per cent year-on-year growth in 2020.

But as the UAE, in particular, prepares toward the next 50 years, the aerospace industry will need to inspire the youth to advance the industry for decades to come. Today, there is tremendous pressure on the aerospace industry’s workforce. There are a large number of retirements on the horizon, from pilots to engineers to people working on the assembly line and in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO).

Looking at the level of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) graduates entering the marketplace in Europe and North America, there simply are not enough to meet demand. The shortage of STEM graduates is a key trend driving disruption in aerospace.

Events such as the Global Aerospace Summit bring the industry together to discuss pertinent topics such as innovation and advancing our ecosystem, offering the ideal platform to discuss trends and challenges affecting our industry.

Talent moves around

Technology has blurred the lines between industry sectors, ultimately creating new competition to attract a talented workforce from a receding pool. STEM graduates that the aerospace industry in particular depend on are now gravitating toward non-traditional big tech companies.

For instance, an aerospace engineer can graduate from the University of Washington in Seattle with a strong possibility they would go on to pursue a career at Boeing. Today, that same student has the option to work downtown at Amazon.

Need for nurture

A major focus for the A&D industry needs to be on how we develop our talent, including how we plan for succession and different roles. There are a number of tools and technologies being deployed in the industry that help businesses do just that. For example, companies from within the aerospace industry and beyond sponsor the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield, which brings together technologies and demonstrates their capabilities.

It helps us understand how these technologies integrate within the ecosystem, while training talent on these new, cutting-edge developments.

This is particularly important as many aerospace companies still carry out digitization intermittently rather than on a sustained end-to-end basis as part of a digital roadmap.

This is a key reason, I believe, why we see that less than 20 per cent of companies agree that they are getting a return on their technology investments.

Technology is impacting both professional and manual jobs within the aerospace industry. With this in mind, the need for re-skilling the workforce remains a priority that ensures companies can keep pace with rapid technological developments that are shaping the industry.

According to our research, the future workforce will have to adjust to increasingly rapid changes in technology, requiring them to be more adaptable and flexible.

Ultimately, success will come to companies that are able to successfully combine the powers of their human workforce with new technologies in the office and on the shop floor.

- John Schmidt is Managing Director and Global Aerospace and Defence Lead at Accenture.