Lift-off for aerospace jobs

Within the past decade, the British aerospace industry has undergone a transformation.During the early 1990s, government funding cutbacks and a recession in the commercial airline industry forced many aerospace corporations to cut their workforce. The lack of jobs also led to declining enrolments at aerospace engineering schools, with decreases outpacing workforce reductions.However, a decade on, […]

Within the past decade, the British aerospace industry has undergone a transformation.

During the early 1990s, government funding cutbacks and a recession in the commercial airline industry forced many aerospace corporations to cut their workforce. The lack of jobs also led to declining enrolments at aerospace engineering schools, with decreases outpacing workforce reductions.

However, a decade on, and despite the setback of the September 2001 terror attacks, the industry is in much better shape.

Among the reasons is the increase in the number of long-haul holiday travellers, the growth of low-cost airlines and the consequent need for aircraft that are safe, environmentally-friendly and economical — factors that recently led to the launch of the first double-deck passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380.

Airbus recruits

Although Airbus has a full team of engineers to work on this project it is still recruiting on others, including the A350 twin-engine airliner.

‘Airbus is recruiting 140 engineers in the UK in 2006,’ said Alan Camwell, human resources manager for Airbus UK. ‘Some have already been found but around an extra 50 will be sought through the rest of the year, including for a number of high-capability, highly-skilled positions.’

Globalisation has also helped to create new jobs, with more goods being exported and transported worldwide. Meanwhile, the need to develop faster military aircraft and develop cutting-edge technology concepts such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), means advanced research and design remains at the forefront of the defence sector. All this requires a skilled workforce.

Defence and aerospace giant BAE Systems employs more than 100,000 people worldwide, providing a range of products and services for air, land and naval forces. It has vacancies for staff at many locations but particularly at Warton and Samlesbury in Lancashire. Up to 1,000 people from all entry routes are being sought.

Opportunities within the company range from manufacturing and design to upgrades and aircraft support. According to BAE, the nature of its business means that employees’ long-term prospects and job security are good. The company is working on a range of projects, including the Eurofighter and Nimrod. ‘These have a long life-span,’ said Richard Hamer, education and graduate recruitment director at BAE Systems.

A new area for growth has been the development of UAVs. ‘This has won support from the ministry of defence and is an area of growing activity for us,’ said Hamer. ‘We will be working with the MoD on a number of fronts.’

As part of its recruitment drive, BAE is pushing to increase the proportion of women employees from its present level of about 12 per cent, although this is relatively high compared with the industry average.

Young people wanted

‘Our current age profile over 40 is quite large so we are trying to recruit younger people,’ said Hamer. ‘We are also having a push on systems engineering, which is critical to pulling together partners on the type of large projects that we specialise in.’

The lack of younger recruits to the industry is causing concern. However, the good news for prospective employees is that to attract and retain such staff, companies have been revitalising the opportunities offered workers.

‘There is a lack of young people coming into the industry and we are having to compete internationally for a smaller pool of people,’ said Rachel Cass, human resources director for Cobham flight operation and services.

To stem the flow of experienced engineers into other industries, Cobham is focusing on keeping skilled people within the sector.

‘People tend to get settled in one organisation and don’t move,’ said Cass, who added that the company is particularly seeking project and systems engineers.

‘It is hard to attract people in the mid-career range as they are thinking of how moving will affect their benefits such as pensions,’ said Cass. ‘But we are a global organisation and are now opening up so that people can go to other divisions to get experience and also go abroad if they wish.’

The awarding of a number of defence contracts has boosted demand in the sector. Most recently, in June the MoD handed Marshall Aerospace a £1.52bn contract to support its fleet of Hercules transport aircraft. This will guarantee improved availability of aircraft to the RAF over the next 24 years.

Marshall has vacancies for technicians and airframe fitters to support the Hercules and other projects, although the exact number required is not known as it is restructuring after the Hercules win. Like others in the sector, the company is trying to attract skilled staff.

Marshall’s four-year apprenticeship scheme for young entrants is complemented by an award- winning adult trainee scheme that accepts people with and without engineering skills.

‘We had one trainee of 45 who retrained to become an airframe fitter,’ said Sue Rolls, senior human resources administrator. ‘We are also very focused on inhouse training and career advancement to retain experienced staff. Some people have worked here for 30 years, both as fitters and also on the management side.’

As well as at its Cambridge site, Marshall has subsidiaries in countries including Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. Depending on skills and position, secondment of staff may be possible.

While the aeronautical side of the aerospace industry is experiencing a renaissance, the space sector is also going from strength to strength. According to Astrium, part of European aerospace group EADS, the world’s space business is expected to grow by at least 15 per cent a year to be worth $1.5 trn by 2020.

Astrium’s satellite business has operations across the UK, France, Germany and Spain and is prime contractor on many European Space Agency programmes. According to the company, engineers with general project management experience are always in particular demand.

There are more than 11,000 people working in EADS’s space business and the company is looking for about 100 engineers in systems, software, electrical, mechanical, radio frequency (RF) systems, RF design and RF communications systems.

Solid reputation

Astrium’s RF engineers have built a solid reputation for achievement in the field of satellite payload design and manufacture. The two sophisticated Inmarsat 4 series telecommunications satellites, launched in 2005, were designed and built by Astrium in Stevenage and Portsmouth.

Meanwhile, Astrium is also recruiting Attitudinal Orbit Control Systems engineers, as well as thermal, stress, and structure engineers. ‘Sophisticated satellite telecommunications are becoming increasingly essential in the modern world and Astrium is at the forefront in developing the next generation technologies,’ said Jeremy Close, UK director of communications for EADS Space.

‘Current telecommunications programmes under way include Hylas, Nimiq4 and HOT BIRD 9 — the HOT BIRD 8 satellite, capable of broadcasting 150 HD TV channels — was launched successfully on 4 August.’

Attractive proposition

With the need to develop new military technologies, consistent demand for improved space-based systems and the growth of the airline industry — Ryanair alone experienced a 23 per cent growth in passenger numbers between July 2005 and 2006 — the aerospace industry looks like an attractive proposition.

Not only will engineers be entering a flourishing sector with good long-term prospects but companies’ self-confessed need to attract and retain good staff means that once on board, opportunities for development and advancement will be second to none.