Industry is increasingly taking responsibility for solving the shortage of aerospace engineers into its own hands. While it aims to involve government in putting in place the necessary infrastructure to encourage more people to take the scientific or technical road through education, it is evolving its own plans to help retrieve the situation.

BAE Systems' long-term concern is that an insufficient volume of good-quality engineers is emerging from universities. "There's just a feeling there's a tightening pool out there," says Simon Howison, engineering director for the company's Military Air Solutions division.

It has succeeded in recruiting its annual target of up to 400 engineers over the past couple of years, but recognises that its reputation as a blue-chip company probably makes it easier to find staff than would be the case for smaller, less well-known organisations. Even Howison's organisation has had to expend much effort to meet those targets.

"This year, graduate recruitment is going slowly. We're not sure if that's a short-term twitch in the industry or a long-term thing," he says.


BAE Systems' response to this problem is to try to catch them young. Worried that many school-leavers "have effectively excluded themselves from engineering" by their choice of subjects earlier in their school careers, says Howison, its education programme includes sending professional actors to more than 140 schools to try to make technology interesting through activities such as workshops that showcase engineering.

 Companies are waking up to the need to attract younger people

It also sends young engineers into schools to urge pupils to keep their technical options open and actively liaises with specialist UK technical universities such as Cranfield and Loughborough to ensure the subjects being taught align with industry's needs.

Once staff have been recruited, attention turns to retention - which is about more than salaries, says Howison, it is about trying to ensure engineers are happy: "If they're not doing exciting, interesting work, they look elsewhere. Money is usually just the final straw."

EADS says a major task is to work on its image. It attends more than 50 career fairs worldwide to find personnel to replenish its 55,000 engineers and, like competitors, maintains close links with specialist universities.

Those universities are increasingly willing to listen to industry's needs when constructing curricula, says Thorsten Möllmann, EADS vice-president, talent and executive management/human resources marketing: "Universities don't want just to educate students, they want to give them the right skills." To this end, EADS is sponsoring a new degree in mechatronics at Budapest Polytechnic.

EADS also financially supports around 400 students writing their final-year theses and has offered 5,000 paid internships to promising candidates.

Under its EADS Juniors Programme, promising potential recruits are invited on courses to learn "soft skills" such as project management, leadership and communications skills, and are offered flying lessons on powered gliders.

It all helps to make the participants think of EADS as a career choice. EADS is also keen to talk to school pupils its chief technical officer, Jean Botti, will be addressing UK pupils on aerospace at London's Science Museum in May, for example.


Boeing says it has enough recruits, but is taking a multi-faceted approach to ensure that continues. Its links with colleges bring 12 university professors into its plants each year. The academics, from fields such as IT and engineering, shadow senior executives to understand the aerospace industry and the skills it requires.

Boeing's Global Staffing Group, meanwhile, works with researchers to unearth personnel from other industries who they feel could transition to aerospace.

Internally, efforts in the field of knowledge management include instituting a programme to ensure the experience of staff approaching retirement is transferred down through generations of workers.

Graduate numbers are shrinking, but "the generation that's coming in is mobile", says Dianna Peterson, director of strategic workforce planning.

"They don't mind travelling around." Thirty years ago, workers were more static, joining for stability and longevity.

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