Failure to Build the Workforce is Bad for Business – Part II

AIA: Skills Gap Will Leave 2/3s of Jobs Vacant

This is Part II of a series establishing future workforce needs in aviation/Aerospace manufacturing. Part I discussed the numbers – or lack thereof – and economic consequences for the inability to meet future workforce needs if drastic action is not taken.

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Source: NASA via Unsplash

The aviation/aerospace manufacturing industry is not only facing an acute workforce shortage during the next decade, it’s facing a skills gap that could prevent more than half of the 3.5 million jobs Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) members predict will be needed by 2026 from being filled.

The fact is, according to the Institute for the Future, employees must be turned into entrepreneurs with the creativity to develop work arounds to intractable problems.

Corporations, on the other hand, will need to significantly change the traditional employer-employee expectations and relationships in order to foster that creativity and ingenuity, a tall order.

Indeed, the gap between skills needed and those available in the population or in management is already here, according to a February 4 Gartner study. It concluded 58% of employees need new skills to address their duties because the number of skills required of a single job increased 10% annually since 2017.

Skills Needed

Source: This is Engineering via Unsplash

We know there is a growing skills gap for emerging technologies but such a gap exists with current technology as well and nowhere is it more acute than computer science and data analytics. And, we know serious reforms are needed in the education and industry sectors to build a constantly-pivoting, interdisciplinary workforce.

In demand skills, according a DOD analysis in the January 2021 Department of Defense study Industrial Capabilities Report said there are not enough software engineering resources in the education pipeline. DOD also identified skills related to machine learning, cyber, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and hypersonics as in high demand.

DOD’s concerns about the pipeline syncs with educators who say silos need to be dropped between engineering, computer science and many other disciplines.

Aviation Week & Space Technology’s 2020 Industry Workforce Report, done in partnership with AIA and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), said the top 2019 reskilling areas were cybersecurity, data science, program management and manufacturing systems/computer skills. An increasingly connected industry means the industry will be competing against DOD – and everyone else, really – for those skilled in AI and machine learning.

Employers across all industries also see soft skills – problem solving, critical thinking, literacy, communication and collaboration – as increasing in importance and something they can’t find in the current workforce.

The Institute for the Future report, The Next Era of Human|Machine Partnerships, explored the impact that Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) and Cloud Computing, will have on society by 2030.

Source: Mimi Thian via Unsplash

“This outlook concludes, over the next decade, emerging technologies will underpin the formation of new human-machine partnerships that make the most of their respective complementary strengths. These partnerships will enhance daily activities around the coordination of resources and in-the-moment learning, which will reset expectations for work and require corporate structures to adapt to the expanding capabilities of human-machine teams.”

The good news is humans will not be redundant because their creative skills and human passion are more challenging to program, said the report. Brian Mullins, CEO and co-founder of DAQRI, believes passion is the clear advantage humans have over machines.

“If you pick up a device and learn how to do something that you couldn’t do before,” said Mullins. “You could fire up a passion in people and that is what’s going to make a change in our world. This is how the application of these technologies will solve even more interesting problems on a global scale.”

Tech Employees in Demand

Tech sits at the intersection of every corporate activity today so the inability to find computer scientists and data analysts is more ominous given findings by the AvWeek Study showing attrition is highest among young IT employees.

In a 2016 study, Korn Ferry found traditional firms already struggled to find the digital talent they needed for customer service and digital operating models. The study listed software and systems, electrical, mechanical and model-based engineers as critical occupations along with manufacturing automation specialists, all in high demand in other industries.

“The United States is so far failing to equip the next generation with the new skills that are needed to fill large numbers of high-tech roles,” says Werner Penk, president, Global Technology Market, Korn Ferry. “As with many economies, the onus falls on companies to train workers, and also to encourage governments to rethink education programs to generate the talent pipelines the industry will require.”

Source: Joshua Sortino via Unsplash

But these companies and academia cannot do it alone. It will take a massive effort that must also include government, airlines, operators, airports and other industry sectors to wrangle the hundreds of different efforts we have today into a single-minded approach to workforce development.

Whole New World

The report also prescribed what traits of the future worker.

“Individuals will need domain expertise, the combination of experience, context, and knowledge on how ‘things get done,'” said the report. “In addition, they will need attitudes often associated with entrepreneurs – vision, perseverance, creative problem-solving – will be a critical trait for all workers to employ. The ability to take a measured approach to balancing the big picture objectives of the organization with an entrepreneur’s drive to design workarounds and circumvent constraints will differentiate the humans from the machines.

“In other words, the skills traditionally employed by entrepreneurs will be fundamental for all workers,” the report continued. “As AI cloud services enable more applications and devices to incorporate AI capabilities without heavy investment in the technical infrastructure, access to information will be even more expansive than it is today. In 2030, skills in information qualification and judgment will remain critical, as will the new skill of interpreting an output produced by an algorithm. The ability to make sense of combined human-machine outputs will be key for success in the next era of human-machine partnerships.”

What the report describes is a signficant change to current employer-employee expectations and relationships. Consequently, organizations will also need new skills. Legacy corporations are not known for what is needed in tomorrow’s workforce, especially with respect to being open to disparate opinions and tolerance of employees pushing the envelope as they become more entrepreneurial. This, and failure to address harassment and other issues, is behind the wholesale loss of under-represented workers who sometimes leave to become competitors. That is a giant loss of talent that is all too frequent in aviation/aerospace.

“Organizations will need to ramp-up their internal competency to ensure that the growing number of algorithms running their business align with their brands and values,” cautioned the report. “In addition to ensuring the outputs from the machine-learned systems are accurate, organizations will need to be adept at reviewing the assumptions built into machine systems to prevent the systems from exhibiting implicit racial and gender bias.”

Source: Hey Lagos Techie via Unsplash

Implicit bias has already been identified as a major problem in workforce hiring.

The report also confirmed organizations need to readjust their view of the workforce – understanding how they value work and a work/life balance. Digital natives will view jobs as opportunities to learn and make a meaningful impact. Organizations that support those aspirations will attract the next decade’s top talent.”

Organizations must also manage the human-machine partnership. “As more automated machine-learned systems partner with workers, there needs to be a way of finding ways to create spontaneous and novel approaches to accomplishing tasks which will help inspire creativity in the workplace,” concluded the report. “Implementing structures and processes that incentivize workers to deviate from algorithmic systems will reduce the likelihood that systems are running on historical or outdated assumptions, and pose attractive challenges for the workforce to outsmart the machines.”

Industry Actions to Fill the Gap

“To deal with this skills mismatch, we’re seeing some companies building their own talent pipeline by hiring straight from school or college,” said Korn Ferry Institute President Jean-Marc Laouchez. “These younger workers can be recruited at a lower cost and trained in the company’s specific culture and ways of working. Constant learning – driven by both workers and organizations – will be central to the future of work, extending far beyond the traditional definition of learning and development.”

But corporate workforce reskilling and retraining programs amount to only 4% of revenues in 2019. The AvWeek 2020 workforce study reported:

  • 50% of companies provide work-based reskilling
  • 40% of respondents provide classroom-based reskilling courses
  • 33% provide on-line based reskilling courses
  • In 2019, industries across the country signed up to increase the number of apprenticeships offered with 39% of respondents offering an apprenticeship program
  • The number of apprentices grew by 74% between 2018 and 2019
  • Respondents projected increasing apprenticeships by another 23% in 2020

Skill Adjacencies

Source: This is Engineering via Unsplash

“Many organizations have focused on talent acquisition to get the skills they need, however, our survey revealed that 74% of organizations froze hiring in response to COVID-19,” said Alison Smith, director in the Gartner HR practice of the company’s Leveraging Skills Adjacencies to Address Skills Gaps report. “In today’s environment, hiring is not possible for many organizations. Instead, companies can look at current employees who have skills closely matched to those in demand and use training to close any gaps. Some progressive HR leaders have partnered with their own internal data science teams to ground upskilling efforts in current knowledge of employee capabilities and prioritize immediate skills application.”


Gartner recommended companies do skills assessment of all employees to identify skill adjacencies, saying leading companies are already leveraging machine learning and Big Data in the effort.

AvWeek’s 2020 Workforce Study set three priorities: “Reskilling to meet the challenges in the coming years, understanding who the people are of aerospace and defense [through the lens of social change], and the identification of how industry is adapting to digitalization in a much-accelerated transformation.”

It is more complex than that, however. Despite the fact we have hundreds of aviation/aerospace development programs starting in Pre-K and $2B+ in federal spending on STEM, the industry still struggles.

What is needed are metrics to determine whether or not these initiatives are working. For instance, serious doubts have been raised by DOD about the erosion of STEM education. FA/AW News will examine this issue in the future.  

Perhaps what is needed is to step back and take a scientific approach once we determine what works and what doesn’t.

Source: Science in HD via Unsplash

Each effort from manufacturers such as working with state education officials to create career & technical education and community college skill building programs to AOPA’s high school curriculum move the needle to be sure. But is it moving or just shaking? Are programs the most effective they can be?

When asked why different associations didn’t band together to enhance their efforts, FA/AW News was told they were focused on their own constituencies, but it begs the question as to whether that is the best strategy.

We should be thinking instead about creating an industry-wide pipeline ecosystem – a continuum taking in not only education reform and workforce development but the wholesale remake of an antiquated industry culture forged decades ago. Most studies show addressing culture is a must and transformation is no longer about diversity and inclusion but about creating a Just Culture. Corporations are already considering incorporating the grinding social justice issues into their social responsibility mandates because they know it’s good for the bottom line.

The industry does not have time to do more studies because so many have been done. We have enough data on numbers and skills needed to act while we study such issues as the effectiveness of current workforce development and education programs.  

This will not be easy, but it is the only way to get to where we need to be. We sure won’t get there without wholesale industry change.

Published by Kathryn B. Creedy

Kathryn B. Creedy is a veteran aviation journalist and communications strategist. My byline has appeared in CNN Travel, The Points Guy, BBC Capital, Los Angeles Times, Forbes Online, The Washington Post, Flyer Talk, Business Traveler, Business Travel Executive, Afar, Flightglobal, Centre for Aviation, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Low Fare & Regional Airlines, Inflight, Business Airports International, Airports, Centerlines, Regional Gateway, Runway Girl Network and Metropolitan Airport News among others. In 2018, I was cited for the Sapphire Pegasus Business Aviation Award for her work as a business aviation journalist. Created four newsletters, including two web publications Author: Time Flies - The History of SkyWest Airlines. Consistently received bonuses or commendations throughout my career. Founded Commuter/Regional Airline News, building it to become the bible of the industry. Co-founded C/R Airline News International to cover Europe. Founding editor of Aviation Today's Daily Brief, VLJ Report. Founding Senior Analyst North America for Centre for Aviation and North American Editor for Low Fare & Regional Airlines and Inflight. Key Words: Aviation, travel, business jets, commercial, aircraft, airlines, publishing, public relations, corporate communications, media specialist,

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