£2bn cash injection heralds bright future for UK aerospace

Ged Mason
CEO, Morson Group

Nick Clegg’s recent announcement that the Government and Aerospace industry will, over the course of seven years, invest £2bn into the UK’s Aerospace initiatives via the newly created ATI, is a positive step at a time when the industry is reaching a critical point in its evolution.

Historically, the UK has been a leader in Aerospace, developing and manufacturing pioneering aircraft – in both the commercial and military sectors – but there has been a significant shift in the industry over the past decade. There is increased demand from commercial airline operators and their passengers for innovative products that are fuel-efficient, cost effective to operate and environmentally sustainable.

Through operators, consumer demand filters back to the manufacturers, and then to companies such as Morson, who specialise in the provision of highly skilled workers and services, in niche disciplines. When perhaps 10 or 20 years ago, the UK Aerospace industry required engineers skilled in the manufacture of aircraft, we now see an increasing requirement for skills that incorporate all stages of an aircraft’s lifespan.

The UK has long been a leader in the aerospace industry

From conception to completion, the development of an aircraft can take up to eight years. In that time there will be a need for engineers with skills in design, stress, analysis, manufacturing, systems and software. The industry has to move with the times, and the input of this key collaborative investment will go a long way to addressing the demand for skilled workers in the industry.

The engineering skills shortage is well documented. A substantial percentage (over 50%) of the engineering industry’s high-level specialists will, within the next 10-15 years, approach retirement. Currently, there are considerable concerns about how these roles will be filled, and new skills developed.

The approach that has been taken, by companies that have the capability to do so, is to upskill contractors or put training opportunities in place. Morson has supported apprenticeship schemes for over two decades, and has seen the benefit first-hand. However, this piecemeal approach cannot address the industry’s collective need. This investment goes some way to address the issue, but in the long-term the industry must support and proactively encourage the promotion of career opportunities, not simply at graduate level, but right back to school-age.

To maintain our technical edge in composite design, aircraft systems and manufacturing technology, there needs to be a commitment to invest in skills and knowledge development.

Once upon a time engineering was perceived to be a desirable career choice. Over the past few decades that perception changed, in favour of careers in professional services, finance and the arts. It was, and still is to some extent, perceived to be a male-biased industry, but we have seen the beginnings of a confident step away from this perception, and in the past five years have experienced a rise in the number of female engineers.

The money invested in the Aerospace Technology Institute will be well placed to positively impact these issues, but what is most encouraging of all is the coming together of the industry’s major players. That in itself presents a unique opportunity to tap into the knowledge and expertise of the pioneering market leaders, who know what the challenges are first hand, and what needs to be done to address them.

In the past we have been uncompetitive in the manufacturing environment, but through investment, retraining and new initiatives, the UK industry has seen a revival and we are now competing more in export markets. From a recruiter’s point of view, our focus is to keep up with demand – not just volume of supply, but the change in skills and scope. A higher level of demand creates new, niche skills that require training. Finding the most talented individuals is a challenge, and being able to provide this service has positioned us at the top of the market.

At Morson, we supply the key players in the UK and global Aerospace industry, and at present have over 1000 vacancies available for aerospace engineers. That the ATI could produce a further 115,000 jobs across the industry in the next seven years is both a challenge and pleasing to hear; it supports my belief that the creation of the ATI is a much needed focus that allows the UK supply chain to continue to maintain its leading position as a world-class supplier of technical services and products.

There is no doubt that to maintain our technical edge in composite design, aircraft systems and manufacturing technology, there needs to be this level of commitment to invest in skills and knowledge development.

The industry owes it to the young engineers and technologists that the UK will build its manufacturing future on, to make this investment and enable them to realise their full potential.

Ged Mason is CEO of Morson Group, a leading manpower and services provider to the Aerospace industry.