High flyers: career opportunities in civil aerospace

This year’s influx of graduates entering the aerospace industry will have the opportunity to work in a diverse range of roles

Many a decision to pursue a career in aerospace will have been made at the Farnborough Airshow, an event that gives the sector a showcase for its products that few industries can rival.

On the eve of the latest show, however, the UK’s aerospace jobseekers could be forgiven for a touch of apprehension. The industry has felt its share of pain in the recession and uncertainty about future defence budgets will hardly help.

Despite this, aerospace remains one of the UK’s key assets and a major provider of the type of technology-led jobs that the new government has made a priority to develop. The domestic industry employs more than 100,000 people in the UK and a further 50,000 overseas. With an average salary some 43 per cent higher than the national mean, its jobs are valuable to the economy.

UK aerospace is carving out strong positions in areas that could see growth over the next decade, including advanced materials, more environmentally benign aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

More immediately, the UK is playing host to companies involved in some of the most significant civil and military aerospace projects. The likes of BAE Systems, GKN Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and Cobham help to maintain a sector that has a need for skilled engineers and new entrants.
One major aircraft OEM with a strong presence in the UK, Airbus, plans to hire 700 engineers, including 210 graduates, this year. With 10,000 employees in the UK – where it makes the wings for the flagship A380 at Broughton – and more than 40,000 others worldwide, the company claims that the prospects for career progression and development are good.

One of the attractions and challenges of a career in the aerospace industry is the ability to shape aviation in the future. ’Airbus is designing and developing the aircraft of tomorrow, such as the A400M at Airbus Military and the A350 XWB, a medium-capacity wide-body aircraft,’ he added.
The company also contributes to the wider skills agenda, said Ehm. ’Today we are looking at what skills will be required to build the eco-efficient aircraft of tomorrow,’ he explained. ’We work closely with universities and engineering schools, and exchange information with them on what will be needed tomorrow so that their students will receive appropriate training.’

The global nature of the business is another asset to career development, added Ehm, and there is no such thing as a typical career at Airbus. An engineer can work in any department and in functions as diverse as aircraft design, aerodynamic studies or product specification. ’After a few years, they can progress towards programmes or management, broaden their spectrum of responsibilities to more complex systems and even become the engineer in charge of an aircraft programme,’ he said.

The company has deployed tools to develop the internal mobility of its staff. It organises ’job-dating’ sessions, bringing together staff members wishing to develop their careers. Some 70 per cent of workers taking part in a job-dating session change position and each year 4,000 people are put through Airbus’s job mobility programme.