While 81% of aviation/aerospace’s current workforce recommend their career to families and friends, the industry still has pockets of despair including the fact that the number of women in the industry has stubbornly resisted change coming in at only 25% for over two decades. Re-skilling has also become more critical with only 4% of companies surveyed in the Aviation Week, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and American Institute of Aerospace and Astronautics (AIAA) study now having such programs.
Some of the results were revealed during an AvWeek Podcast Can the Aerospace Industry Shake its White, Male Image? during which AIA CEO Eric Fanning discussed industry challenges with AvWeek Editor in Chief Joe Anselmo and Executive Editor Jen DiMascio. Results of the study were covered in the September 16 issue of AvWeek.
While the industry is focusing attention on recruiting students into STEM in middle and high school, Fanning said the work needs to start as early as kindergarten with continued emphasis throughout grade school owing to the drop out rate for STEM studies around the third or fourth grade. DiMascio said there is little exposure to STEM, aerospace and aviation in the early grades. On a hopeful note, Fanning pointed out students are more diverse as evidenced by AIA’s rocketry challenge for middle schoolers who are much more diverse than in the past.
“It is harder to start STEM later in their education,” he said. “We have to focus on kids as young as possible and get them and keep them excited about STEM. We need to make sure our school districts have the resources because STEM education is more expensive. Only one in six high school graduates who are prepared to study STEM, actually pursue that route in college. And, only half of those stay with and graduate with a STEM degree.”
One of the problems, he said, is the view that aviation/aerospace technology is old compared to more recent industries because it has been around for more than a century. This despite the development of unmanned systems, commercial space transport and urban mobility.
“It falls on us to talk about the aerospace brand, what it has done and what the future looks like and show that to kids,” said Fanning. “We don’t know what that future looks like, but we do know that a lot of things that are now done on the ground will be done in the air. The potential is almost limitless.”
DiMascio pointed to the growing number of women aviation/aerospace executives but cited a University of Wisconsin study showing women left industry within five years to start families because of lack of advancement or workplace culture. She emphasized they are not leaving the workforce because more than half continue to work outside the home after they leave the industry. In fact, women pilots report work rules as a major impediment in careers for all pilots.
“A lot can be done to change workforce policies in the industry to keep women in our workforce,” she said, pointing to Boeing’s Return to Flight program. “It is hard for women to re-enter the industry even after three years. Boeing’s program provides internships to phase them back into the workforce. Without such programs we are leaving out a lot of engineers the industry might be able to bring in.”
Fanning agreed, adding diversity is an issue throughout industry, not just aviation/aerospace. “We have to do better,” he said. “We have to invest heavily in STEM education. Every country is stagnant for such investments except China. This is a global competitive issue for America in addition to it being a national security issue. The Pentagon has definitely woken up to this issue but the rest of the government has yet to wake up. Our industry is important for the economy, for jobs, and because we want to keep head of our competitors and adversaries.”
With rapid changes in technology, re-skilling programs are more critical than ever.
“We have difficulty finding new workers, so we have to have the ability to retain our workforce through re-skilling programs for those who want to stay,” said Fanning. “The Department of Labor wants more re-skilling programs and asked industry to develop accreditation standards because the department couldn’t keep up with the demand. I was shocked at how many members signed up to do these programs. Only 4% had re-skilling programs and we expect that to grow to 40% in the next five years.”
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